IN A GERMAN PENSION
TheSister of the Baroness.
FrauBrechenmacher attends a Wedding.
TheSwing of the Pendulum.
Bread soupwas placed upon the table. "Ah" said the Herr Ratleaningupon thetable as he peered into the tureen"that is what I need. My'magen'has not been in order for several days. Bread soupand justtherightconsistency. I am a good cook myself"--he turned to me.
"Howinteresting" I saidattempting to infuse just the right amountofenthusiasminto my voice.
"Ohyes--when one is not married it is necessary. As for meI havehadall Iwanted from women without marriage." He tucked his napkininto hiscollar andblew upon his soup as he spoke. "Now at nine o'clock Imakemyself anEnglish breakfastbut not much. Four slices of breadtwoeggstwo slicesof cold hamone plate of souptwo cups of tea--that is nothingto you."
Heasserted the fact so vehemently that I had not the courage to refuteit.
All eyeswere suddenly turned upon me. I felt I was bearing the burdenofthenation's preposterous breakfast--I who drank a cup of coffee whilebuttoningmy blouse in the morning.
"Nothingat all" cried Herr Hoffmann from Berlin. "AchwhenI was inEngland inthe morning I used to eat."
He turnedup his eyes and his moustachewiping the soup drippings from hiscoat andwaistcoat.
"Dothey really eat so much?" asked Fraulein Stiegelauer. "Soup andbaker'sbread and pig's fleshand tea and coffee and stewed fruitandhoney andeggsand cold fish and kidneysand hot fish and liver? Alltheladieseattooespecially the ladies."
"Certainly. I myself have noticed itwhen I was living in a hotel inLeicesterSquare" cried the Herr Rat. "It was a good hotelbut theycould notmake tea--now--"
"Ahthat's one thing I CAN do" said Ilaughing brightly. "Ican makevery goodtea. The great secret is to warm the teapot."
"Warmthe teapot" interrupted the Herr Ratpushing away his soupplate."Whatdo you warm the teapot for? Ha! ha! that's very good! Onedoes noteat theteapotI suppose?"
He fixedhis cold blue eyes upon me with an expression which suggested athousandpremeditated invasions.
"Sothat is the great secret of your English tea? All you do is towarmtheteapot."
I wantedto say that was only the preliminary canterbut could nottranslateitand so was silent.
Theservant brought in vealwith sauerkraut and potatoes.
"Ieat sauerkraut with great pleasure" said the Traveller fromNorthGermany"but now I have eaten so much of it that I cannot retain it. I amimmediatelyforced to--"
"Abeautiful day" I criedturning to Fraulein Stiegelauer. "Did you getup early?"
"Atfive o'clock I walked for ten minutes in the wet grass. Againin bed.Athalf-past five I fell asleepand woke at sevenwhen I made an'overbody'washing! Again in bed. At eight o'clock I had acold-waterpoulticeand at half past eight I drank a cup of mint tea. At nine Idrank somemalt coffeeand began my 'cure.' Pass me the sauerkrautplease. You do not eat it?"
"Nothank you. I still find it a little strong."
"Isit true" asked the Widowpicking her teeth with a hairpin asshespoke"that you are a vegetarian?"
"Whyyes; I have not eaten meat for three years."
"Im--possible! Have you any family?"
"Therenowyou seethat's what you're coming to! Who ever heard ofhavingchildren upon vegetables? It is not possible. But younever havelargefamilies in England now; I suppose you are too busy with yoursuffragetting. Now I have had nine childrenand they are all alivethankGod. Finehealthy babies--though after the first one was born I had to--"
"HowWONDERFUL!" I cried.
"Wonderful"said the Widow contemptuouslyreplacing the hairpin in theknob whichwas balanced on the top of her head. "Not at all! Afriend ofmine hadfour at the same time. Her husband was so pleased he gave asupper-partyand had them placed on the table. Of course she was veryproud."
"Germany"boomed the Travellerbiting round a potato which he had spearedwith hisknife"is the home of the Family."
Followedan appreciative silence.
The disheswere changed for beefred currants and spinach. They wipedtheirforks upon black bread and started again.
"Howlong are you remaining here?" asked the Herr Rat.
"I donot know exactly. I must be back in London in September."
"Ofcourse you will visit Munchen?"
"I amafraid I shall not have time. You seeit is important not tobreakinto my'cure.'"
"Butyou MUST go to Munchen. You have not seen Germany if you havenotbeen toMunchen. All the Exhibitionsall the Art and Soul life ofGermanyare inMunchen. There is the Wagner Festival in Augustand Mozart andaJapanesecollection of pictures--and there is the beer! You do not knowwhat goodbeer is until you have been to Munchen. WhyI see fine ladieseveryafternoonbut fine ladiesI tell youdrinking glasses so high."Hemeasured a good washstand pitcher in heightand I smiled.
"If Idrink a great deal of Munchen beer I sweat so" said HerrHoffmann."WhenI am herein the fields or before my bathsI sweatbut I enjoy it;but in thetown it is not at all the same thing."
Promptedby the thoughthe wiped his neck and face with his dinner napkinandcarefully cleaned his ears.
A glassdish of stewed apricots was placed upon the table.
"Ahfruit!" said Fraulein Stiegelauer"that is so necessary tohealth.The doctortold me this morning that the more fruit I could eat thebetter."
She veryobviously followed the advice.
Said theTraveller: "I suppose you are frightened of an invasiontooeh?Ohthat'sgood. I've been reading all about your English play in anewspaper. Did you see it?"
"Yes." I sat upright. "I assure you we are not afraid."
"Wellthenyou ought to be" said the Herr Rat. "You havegot no army atall--a fewlittle boys with their veins full of nicotine poisoning."
"Don'tbe afraid" Herr Hoffmann said. "We don't wantEngland. If we didwe wouldhave had her long ago. We really do not want you."
He wavedhis spoon airilylooking across at me as though I were a littlechild whomhe would keep or dismiss as he pleased.
"Wecertainly do not want Germany" I said.
"Thismorning I took a half bath. Then this afternoon I must take akneebath andan arm bath" volunteered the Herr Rat; "then I do myexercisesfor anhourand my work is over. A glass of wine and a couple ofrollswith somesardines--"
They werehanded cherry cake with whipped cream.
"Whatis your husband's favourite meat?" asked the Widow.
"Ireally do not know" I answered.
"Youreally do not know? How long have you been married?"
"Butyou cannot be in earnest! You would not have kept house as hiswifefor a weekwithout knowing that fact."
"Ireally never asked him; he is not at all particular about his food."
A pause. They all looked at meshaking their headstheir mouths full ofcherrystones.
"Nowonder there is a repetition in England of that dreadful state ofthings inParis" said the Widowfolding her dinner napkin. "Howcan awomanexpect to keep her husband if she does not know his favourite foodafterthree years?"
I closedthe door after me.
"Whois he?" I said. "And why does he sit always alonewith his back toustoo?"
"Ah!"whispered the Frau Oberregierungsrat"he is a BARON."
She lookedat me very solemnlyand yet with the slightest possiblecontempt--a"fancy-not-recognising-that-at-the-first-glance"expression.
"Butpoor soulhe cannot help it" I said. "Surely thatunfortunate factought notto debar him from the pleasures of intellectual intercourse."
If it hadnot been for her fork I think she would have crossed herself.
"Surelyyou cannot understand. He is one of the First Barons."
More thana little unnervedshe turned and spoke to the Frau Doktor on herleft.
"Myomelette is empty--EMPTY" she protested"and this is thethird I havetried!"
I lookedat the First of the Barons. He was eating salad--taking a wholelettuceleaf on his fork and absorbing it slowlyrabbit-wise--afascinatingprocess to watch.
Small andslightwith scanty black hair and beard and yellow-tonedcomplexionhe invariably wore black serge clothesa rough linen shirtblacksandalsand the largest black-rimmed spectacles that I had everseen.
The HerrOberlehrerwho sat opposite mesmiled benignantly.
"Itmust be very interesting for yougnadige Frauto be able towatch....of coursethis is a VERY FINE HOUSE. There was a lady from the SpanishCourt herein the summer; she had a liver. We often spoke together."
I lookedgratified and humble.
"Nowin Englandin your 'boarding 'ouse'one does not find the FirstClassasin Germany."
"Noindeed" I repliedstill hypnotised by the Baronwho lookedlike alittleyellow silkworm.
"TheBaron comes every year" went on the Herr Oberlehrer"forhis nerves.He hasnever spoken to any of the guests--YET! A smile crossed hisface.I seemedto see his visions of some splendid upheaval of that silence--adazzlingexchange of courtesies in a dim futurea splendid sacrifice of anewspaperto this Exalted Onea "danke schon" to be handed down tofuturegenerations.
At thatmoment the postmanlooking like a German army officercame inwith themail. He threw my letters into my milk puddingand then turnedto awaitress and whispered. She retired hastily. The managerof thepensioncame in with a little tray. A picture post card was depositedonitandreverently bowing his headthe manager of the pension carried itto theBaron.
MyselfIfelt disappointed that there was not a salute of twenty-fiveguns.
At the endof the meal we were served with coffee. I noticed the Barontook threelumps of sugarputting two in his cup and wrapping up the thirdin acorner of his pocket-handkerchief. He was always the first toenterthedining-room and the last to leave; and in a vacant chair beside himheplaced alittle black leather bag.
In theafternoonleaning from my windowI saw him pass down the streetwalkingtremulously and carrying the bag. Each time he passed alamp-posthe shranka littleas though expecting it to strike himor maybe thesense ofplebeian contamination...
I wonderedwhere he was goingand why he carried the bag. Never had Iseen himat the Casino or the Bath Establishment. He looked forlornhisfeetslipped in his sandals. I found myself pitying the Baron.
Thatevening a party of us were gathered in the salon discussing the day's"kur"with feverish animation. The Frau Oberregierungsrat sat by meknitting ashawl for her youngest of nine daughterswho was in that veryinterestingfrail condition..."But it is bound to be quite satisfactory"she saidto me. "The dear married a banker--the desire of herlife."
There musthave been eight or ten of us gathered togetherwe who weremarriedexchanging confidences as to the underclothing and peculiarcharacteristicsof our husbandsthe unmarried discussing the over-clothingandpeculiar fascinations of Possible Ones.
"Iknit them myself" I heard the Frau Lehrer cry"of thickgrey wool. Hewears onea monthwith two soft collars."
"Andthen" whispered Fraulein Lisa"he said to me'Indeed youplease me.I shallperhapswrite to your mother.'"
Smallwonder that we were a little violently exciteda littleexpostulatory.
Suddenlythe door opened and admitted the Baron.
Followed acomplete and deathlike silence.
He came inslowlyhesitatedtook up a toothpick from a dish on the top ofthe pianoand went out again.
When thedoor was closed we raised a triumphant cry! It was the firsttimehe hadever been known to enter the salon. Who could tell what theFutureheld?
Dayslengthened into weeks. Still we were togetherand still thesolitarylittlefigurehead bowed as though under the weight of the spectacleshauntedme. He entered with the black baghe retired with the blackbag--andthat was all.
At lastthe manager of the pension told us the Baron was leaving the nextday.
"Oh"I thought"surely he cannot drift into obscurity--be lostwithoutone word! Surely he will honour the Frau Oberregierungsrat of the FrauFeldleutnantswitweONCE before he goes."
In theevening of that day it rained heavily. I went to the postofficeand as Istood on the stepsumbrellalesshesitating before plunging intothe slushyroada littlehesitating voice seemed to come from under myelbow.
I lookeddown. It was the First of the Barons with the black bag and anumbrella. Was I mad? Was I sane? He was asking me to share thelatter.But I wasexceedingly nicea trifle diffidentappropriately reverential.Togetherwe walked through the mud and slush.
Nowthereis something peculiarly intimate in sharing an umbrella.
It is aptto put one on the same footing as brushing a man's coat forhim--alittle daringnaive.
I longedto know why he sat alonewhy he carried the bagwhat he did allday. But he himself volunteered some information.
"Ifear" he said"that my luggage will be damp. Iinvariably carry itwith me inthis bag--one requires so little--for servants areuntrustworthy."
"Awise idea" I answered. And then: "Why have youdenied us thepleasure--"
"Isit alone that I may eat more" said the Baronpeering into thedusk;"mystomach requires a great deal of food. I order double portionsandeat themin peace."
Whichsounded finely Baronial.
"Andwhat do you do all day?"
"Iimbibe nourishment in my room" he repliedin a voice thatclosed theconversationand almost repented of the umbrella.
When wearrived at the pension there was very nearly an open riot.
I ran halfway up the stairsand thanked the Baron audibly from thelanding.
Hedistinctly replied: "Not at all!"
It wasvery friendly of the Herr Oberlehrer to have sent me a bouquet thateveningand the Frau Oberregierungsrat asked me for my pattern of a baby'sbonnet!
Next daythe Baron was gone.
Sictransit gloria German mundi.
"Thereare two new guests arriving this afternoon" said the manager ofthepensionplacing a chair for me at the breakfast table. "I haveonlyreceivedthe letter acquainting me with the fact this morning. TheBaronessvon Gall is sending her little daughter--the poor child isdumb--tomake the 'cure.' She is to stay with us a monthand then theBaronessherself is coming."
"Baronessvon Gall" cried the Frau Doktorcoming into the room andpositivelyscenting the name. "Coming here? There was a pictureof heronly lastweek in 'Sport and Salon.' She is a friend of the court: I haveheard thatthe Kaiserin says 'du' to her. But this is delightful! Ishalltake mydoctor's advice and spend an extra six weeks here. There isnothinglike young society."
"Butthe child is dumb" ventured the manager apologetically.
"Bah! What does that matter? Afflicted children have such prettyways."
Each guestwho came into the breakfast-room was bombarded with thewonderfulnews. "The Baroness von Gall is sending her littledaughterhere; theBaroness herself is coming in a month's time." Coffee androllstook onthe nature of an orgy. We positively scintillated. Anecdotes ofthe HighBorn were poured outsweetened and sipped: we gorged onscandalsof HighBirth generously buttered.
"Theyare to have the room next to yours" said the manageraddressing me."Iwas wondering if you would permit me to take down the portrait of theKaiserinElizabeth from above your bed to hang over their sofa."
"Yesindeedsomething homelike"--the Frau Oberregierungsrat pattedmyhand--"andof no possible significance to you."
I felt alittle crushed. Not at the prospect of losing that vision ofdiamondsand blue velvet bustbut at the tone--placing me outside thepale--brandingme as a foreigner.
Wedissipated the day in valid speculations. Decided it was toowarm towalk inthe afternoonso lay down on our bedsmustering in great forceforafternoon coffee. And a carriage drew up at the door. Atall younggirl gotoutleading a child by the hand. They entered the hallweregreetedand shown to their room. Ten minutes later she came down withthechild tosign the visitors' book. She wore a blackclosely fittingdresstouched atthroat and wrists with white frilling. Her brown hairbraidedwas tiedwith a black bow--unusually palewith a small mole on her leftcheek.
"I amthe Baroness von Gall's sister" she saidtrying the pen on apieceofblotting-paperand smiling at us deprecatingly. Even for themostjaded ofus life holds its thrilling moments. Two Baronesses in twomonths! The manager immediately left the room to find a new nib.
To myplebeian eyes that afflicted child was singularly unattractive. Shehad theair of having been perpetually washed with a blue bagand hairlike greywool--dressedtooin a pinafore so stiffly starched that shecould onlypeer at us over the frill of it--a social barrier of apinafore--andperhaps it was too much to expect a noble aunt to attend tothe menialconsideration of her niece's ears. But a dumb niece withunwashedears struck me as a most depressing object.
They weregiven places at the head of the table. For a moment we alllooked atone another with an eena-deena-dina-do expression. Then theFrauOberregierungsrat:
"Ihope you are not tired after your journey."
"No"said the sister of the Baronesssmiling into her cup.
"Ihope the dear child is not tired" said the Frau Doktor.
"IexpectI hope you will sleep well to-night" the HerrOberlehrer saidreverently.
The poetfrom Munich never took his eyes off the pair. He allowed histieto absorbmost of his coffee while he gazed at them exceedingly soulfully.
UnyokingPegasusthought I. Death spasms of his Odes to Solitude! Therewerepossibilities in that young woman for an inspirationnot to mentionadedicationand from that moment his suffering temperament took up its bedandwalked.
Theyretired after the mealleaving us to discuss them at leisure.
"Thereis a likeness" mused the Frau Doktor. "Quite. What a manner shehas. Such reservesuch a tender way with the child."
"Pityshe has the child to attend to" exclaimed the student fromBonn. Hehadhitherto relied upon three scars and a ribbon to produce an effectbutthe sisterof a Baroness demanded more than these.
Absorbingdays followed. Had she been one whit less beautifully born wecould nothave endured the continual conversation about herthe songs inherpraisethe detailed account of her movements. But shegraciouslysufferedour worship and we were more than content.
The poetshe took into her confidence. He carried her books when we wentwalkinghe jumped the afflicted one on his knee--poetic licencethis--andonemorning brought his notebook into the salon and read to us.
"Thesister of the Baroness has assured me she is going into a convent"hesaid. (That made the student from Bonn sit up.) "I have writtenthese fewlines lastnight from my window in the sweet night air--"
"Ohyour DELICATE chest" commented the Frau Doktor.
He fixed astony eye on herand she blushed.
"Ihave written these lines: "'Ahwill you to a convent fly So youngso freshso fair? Spring like a doe upon the fields And find your beauty there.'"
Nineverses equally lovely commanded her to equally violent action. I amcertainthat had she followed his advice not even the remainder of her lifein aconvent would have given her time to recover her breath.
"Ihave presented her with a copy" he said. "And to-daywe are going tolook forwild flowers in the wood."
Thestudent from Bonn got up and left the room. I begged the poettorepeat theverses once more. At the end of the sixth verse I saw from thewindow thesister of the Baroness and the scarred youth disappearingthroughthe front gatewhich enabled me to thank the poet so charminglythat heoffered to write me out a copy.
But wewere living at too high pressure in those days. Swinging fromourhumblepension to the high walls of palaceshow could we help but fall?Late oneafternoon the Frau Doktor came upon me in the writing-room andtook me toher bosom.
"Shehas been telling me all about her life" whispered the FrauDoktor."Shecame to my bedroom and offered to massage my arm. You knowIam thegreatestmartyr to rheumatism. Andfancy nowshe has already had sixproposalsof marriage. Such beautiful offers that I assure you Iwept--andevery oneof noble birth. My dearthe most beautiful was in the wood.Not that Ido not think a proposal should take place in a drawing-room--itis morefitting to have four walls--but this was a private wood. Hesaidthe youngofficershe was like a young tree whose branches had never beentouched bythe ruthless hand of man. Such delicacy!" She sighedandturned upher eyes.
"Ofcourse it is difficult for you English to understand when you arealwaysexposing your legs on cricket-fieldsand breeding dogs in your backgardens. The pity of it! Youth should be like a wild rose. Formyself Ido notunderstand how your women ever get married at all."
She shookher head so violently that I shook mine tooand a gloom settledround myheart. It seemed we were really in a very bad way. Didthespirit ofromance spread her rose wings only over aristocratic Germany?
I went tomy roombound a pink scarf about my hairand took a volume ofMorike'slyrics into the garden. A great bush of purple lilac grewbehindthesummer-house. There I sat downfinding a sad significance inthedelicatesuggestion of half mourning. I began to write a poem myself.
"Theysway and languish dreamily Andweclose pressedare kissing there."
It ended! "Close pressed" did not sound at all fascinating. Savoured ofwardrobes. Did my wild rose then already trail in the dust? I chewed aleaf andhugged my knees. Then--magic moment--I heard voices from thesummer-housethe sister of the Baroness and the student from Bonn.
Second-handwas better than nothing; I pricked up my ears.
"Whatsmall hands you have" said the student from Bonn. "Theyare likewhitelilies lying in the pool of your black dress." Thiscertainlysoundedthe real thing. Her high-born reply was what interested me.Sympatheticmurmur only.
"MayI hold one?"
I heardtwo sighs--presumed they held--he had rifled those dark waters of anobleblossom.
"Lookat my great fingers beside yours."
"Butthey are beautifully kept" said the sister of the Baronessshyly.
The minx! Was love then a question of manicure?
"HowI should adore to kiss you" murmured the student. "Butyou know I amsufferingfrom severe nasal catarrhand I dare not risk giving it to you.Sixteentimes last night did I count myself sneezing. And threedifferenthandkerchiefs."
I threwMorike into the lilac bushand went back to the house. A greatautomobilesnorted at the front door. In the salon great commotion. TheBaronesswas paying a surprise visit to her little daughter. Clad in ayellowmackintosh she stood in the middle of the room questioning themanager. And every guest the pension contained was grouped about hereventhe FrauDoktorpresumably examining a timetableas near to the augustskirts aspossible.
"Butwhere is my maid?" asked the Baroness.
"Therewas no maid" replied the manager"save for your gracioussisteranddaughter."
"Sister!"she cried sharply. "FoolI have no sister. My childtravelledwith thedaughter of my dressmaker."
FrauFischer was the fortunate possessor of a candle factory somewhere onthe banksof the Egerand once a year she ceased from her labours to makea "cure"in Dorschausenarriving with a dress-basket neatly covered in ablacktarpaulin and a hand-bag. The latter contained amongst herhandkerchiefseau de Colognetoothpicksand a certain woollen mufflerverycomforting to the "magen" samples of her skill incandle-makingtobe offeredup as tokens of thanksgiving when her holiday time was over.
Four ofthe clock one July afternoon she appeared at the Pension Muller. Iwassitting in the arbour and watched her bustling up the path followedbythered-bearded porter with her dress-basket in his arms and a sunflowerbetweenhis teeth. The widow and her five innocent daughters stoodtastefullygrouped upon the steps in appropriate attitudes of welcome; andthegreetings were so long and loud that I felt a sympathetic glow.
"Whata journey!" cried the Frau Fischer. "And nothing toeat in thetrain--nothingsolid. I assure you the sides of my stomach are flappingtogether. But I must not spoil my appetite for dinner--just a cup ofcoffee inmy room. Bertha" turning to the youngest of the five"howchanged! What a bust! Frau HartmannI congratulate you."
Once againthe Widow seized Frau Fischer's hands. "Kathitooasplendidwoman; buta little pale. Perhaps the young man from Nurnberg is hereagain thisyear. How you keep them all I don't know. Each year Icomeexpectingto find you with an empty nest. It's surprising."
FrauHartmannin an ashamedapologetic voice: "We are such ahappyfamilysince my dear man died."
"Butthese marriages--one must have courage; and after allgive themtimethey allmake the happy family bigger--thank God for that...Are there manypeoplehere just now?"
Followed adetailed description in the hallmurmured on the stairscontinuedin six parts as they entered the large room (windows opening uponthegarden) which Frau Fischer occupied each successive year. I wasreadingthe "Miracles of Lourdes" which a Catholic priest--fixinga gloomyeye uponmy soul--had begged me to digest; but its wonders were completelyrouted byFrau Fischer's arrival. Not even the white roses upon the feetof theVirgin could flourish in that atmosphere.
"...Itwas a simple shepherd-child who pastured her flocks upon thebarrenfields..."
Voicesfrom the room above: "The washstand hasof coursebeenscrubbedover withsoda."
"...Poverty-strickenher limbs with tattered rags half covered..."
"Everystick of the furniture has been sunning in the garden for threedays. And the carpet we made ourselves out of old clothes. There is apiece ofthat beautiful flannel petticoat you left us last summer."
"...Deafand dumb was the child; in factthe population considered herhalfidiot..."
"Yesthat is a new picture of the Kaiser. We have moved thethorn-crownedone ofJesus Christ out into the passage. It was not cheerful to sleepwith. Dear Frau Fischerwon't you take your coffee out in the garden?"
"Thatis a very nice idea. But first I must remove my corsets and myboots. Ahwhat a relief to wear sandals again. I am needing the'cure'very badlythis year. My nerves! I am a mass of them. Duringthe entirejourney Isat with my handkerchief over my headeven while the guardcollectedthe tickets. Exhausted!"
She cameinto the arbour wearing a black and white spotted dressing-gownand acalico cap peaked with patent leatherfollowed by Kathicarryingthe littleblue jugs of malt coffee. We were formally introduced. FrauFischersat downproduced a perfectly clean pocket handkerchief andpolishedher cup and saucerthen lifted the lid of the coffee-pot andpeered inat the contents mournfully.
"Maltcoffee" she said. "Ahfor the first few days Iwonder how I canput upwith it. Naturallyabsent from home one must expect muchdiscomfortand strange food. But as I used to say to my dear husband:with aclean sheet and a good cup of coffee I can find my happinessanywhere. But nowwith nerves like mineno sacrifice is too terrible forme tomake. What complaint are you suffering from? You lookexceedinglyhealthy!"
I smiledand shrugged my shoulders.
"Ahthat is so strange about you English. You do not seem to enjoydiscussingthe functions of the body. As well speak of a railway train andrefuse tomention the engine. How can we hope to understand anybodyknowingnothing of their stomachs? In my husband's most severeillness--thepoultices--"
She dippeda piece of sugar in her coffee and watched it dissolve.
"Yeta young friend of mine who travelled to England for the funeral ofhisbrothertold me that women wore bodices in public restaurants no waitercould helplooking into as he handed the soup."
"Butonly German waiters" I said. "English ones look overthe top of yourhead."
"There"she cried"now you see your dependence on Germany. Noteven anefficientwaiter can you have by yourselves."
"ButI prefer them to look over your head."
"Andthat proves that you must be ashamed of your bodice."
I lookedout over the garden full of wall-flowers and standard rose-treesgrowingstiffly like German bouquetsfeeling I did not care one way or theother. I rather wanted to ask her if the young friend had gone to Englandin thecapacity of waiter to attend the funeral baked meatsbut decided itwas notworth it. The weather was too hot to be maliciousand whocouldbeuncharitablevictimised by the flapping sensations which FrauFischerwasenduring until six-thirty? As a gift from heaven for myforbearancedown thepath towards us came the Herr Ratangelically clad in a whitesilksuit. He and Frau Fischer were old friends. She drew thefolds ofherdressing-gown togetherand made room for him on the little greenbench.
"Howcool you are looking" she said; "and if I may make theremark--what abeautifulsuit!"
"SurelyI wore it last summer when you were here? I brought the silkfromChina--smuggledit through the Russian customs by swathing it round mybody. And such a quantity: two dress lengths for my sister-in-lawthreesuits formyselfa cloak for the housekeeper of my flat in Munich. How Iperspired! Every inch of it had to be washed afterwards."
"Surelyyou have had more adventures than any man in Germany. When Ithinkof thetime that you spent in Turkey with a drunken guide who was bitten bya mad dogand fell over a precipice into a field of attar of rosesIlamentthat you have not written a book."
"Time--time. I am getting a few notes together. And now that you are herewe shallrenew our quiet little talks after supper. Yes? It isnecessaryandpleasant for a man to find relaxation in the company of womenoccasionally."
"IndeedI realise that. Even here your life is too strenuous--you aresosoughtafter--so admired. It was just the same with my dear husband. Hewas atallbeautiful manand sometimes in the evening he would come downinto thekitchen and say: 'WifeI would like to be stupid for twominutes.' Nothing rested him so much then as for me to stroke his head."
The HerrRat's bald pate glistening in the sunlight seemed symbolical ofthe sadabsence of a wife.
I began towonder as to the nature of these quiet little after-suppertalks. How could one play Delilah to so shorn a Samson?
"HerrHoffmann from Berlin arrived yesterday" said the Herr Rat.
"Thatyoung man I refuse to converse with. He told me last year thathehad stayedin France in an hotel where they did not have serviettes; what aplace itmust have been! In Austria even the cabmen have serviettes. AlsoI haveheard that he discussed 'free love' with Bertha as she was sweepinghis room. I am not accustomed to such company. I had suspected him for alongtime."
"Youngblood" answered the Herr Rat genially. "I have hadseveraldisputeswith him--you have heard them--is it not so?" turning to me.
"Agreat many" I saidsmiling.
"Doubtlessyou too consider me behind the times. I make no secret of myage; I amsixty-nine; but you must have surely observed how impossible itwas forhim to speak at all when I raised my voice."
I repliedwith the utmost convictionandcatching Frau Fischer's eyesuddenlyrealised I had better go back to the house and write some letters.
It wasdark and cool in my room. A chestnut tree pushed green boughsagainstthe window. I looked down at the horsehair sofa so openlyfloutingthe ideaof curling up as immoralpulled the red pillow on to the floorand laydown. And barely had I got comfortable when the door opened andFrauFischer entered.
"TheHerr Rat had a bathing appointment" she saidshutting the doorafterher. "May I come in? Pray do not move. You look like alittle Persiankitten. Nowtell me something really interesting about your life. WhenImeet newpeople I squeeze them dry like a sponge. To begin with--you aremarried."
I admitthe fact.
"Thendear childwhere is your husband?"
I said hewas a sea-captain on a long and perilous voyage.
"Whata position to leave you in--so young and so unprotected."
She satdown on the sofa and shook her finger at me playfully.
"Admitnowthat you keep your journeys secret from him. For what manwouldthink of allowing a woman with such a wealth of hair to go wanderingin foreigncountries? Nowsupposing that you lost your purse at midnightin asnowbound train in North Russia?"
"ButI haven't the slightest intention--" I began.
"Idon't say that you have. But when you said good-bye to yourdear man Iampositive that you had no intention of coming here. My dearIam awoman ofexperienceand I know the world. While he is away you have afever inyour blood. Your sad heart flies for comfort to these foreignlands. At home you cannot bear the sight of that empty bed---it is likewidowhood. Since the death of my dear husband I have never known an hour'speace."
"Ilike empty beds" I protested sleepilythumping the pillow.
"Thatcannot be true because it is not natural. Every wife ought tofeelthat herplace is by her husband's side--sleeping or waking. It is plainto seethat the strongest tie of all does not yet bind you. Wait untilalittlepair of hands stretches across the water--wait until he comes intoharbourand sees you with the child at your breast."
I sat upstiffly.
"ButI consider child-bearing the most ignominious of all professions"Isaid.
For amoment there was silence. Then Frau Fischer reached down andcaughtmy hand.
"Soyoung and yet to suffer so cruelly" she murmured. "Thereis nothingthat soursa woman so terribly as to be left alone without a manespeciallyif she is marriedfor then it is impossible for her to accepttheattention of others--unless she is unfortunately a widow. OfcourseIknow thatsea-captains are subject to terrible temptationsand they are asinflammableas tenor singers--that is why you must present a bright andenergeticappearanceand try and make him proud of you when his shipreachesport."
Thishusband that I had created for the benefit of Frau Fischer became inher handsso substantial a figure that I could no longer see myself sittingon a rockwith seaweed in my hairawaiting that phantom ship for which allwomen loveto suppose they hunger. Rather I saw myself pushing aperambulatorup the gangwayand counting up the missing buttons on myhusband'suniform jacket.
"Handfulsof babiesthat is what you are really in need of" mused FrauFischer. "Thenas the father of a family he cannot leave you. Think ofhisdelight and excitement when he saw you!"
The planseemed to me something of a risk. To appear suddenly withhandfulsof strange babies is not generally calculated to raise enthusiasmin theheart of the average British husband. I decided to wreck myvirginconceptionand send him down somewhere off Cape Horn.
Then thedinner-gong sounded.
"Comeup to my room afterwards" said Frau Fischer. "Thereis still muchthat Imust ask you."
Shesqueezed my handbut I did not squeeze back.
Gettingready was a terrible business. After supper Frau Brechenmacherpackedfour of the five babies to bedallowing Rosa to stay with her andhelp topolish the buttons of Herr Brechenmacher's uniform. Then sheranover hisbest shirt with a hot ironpolished his bootsand put a stitchor twointo his black satin necktie.
"Rosa"she said"fetch my dress and hang it in front of the stove togetthecreases out. Nowmindyou must look after the children andnot situp laterthan half-past eightand not touch the lamp--you know what willhappen ifyou do."
"YesMamma" said Rosawho was nine and felt old enough to manage athousandlamps. "But let me stay up--the 'Bub' may wake and wantsomemilk."
"Half-pasteight!" said the Frau. "I'll make the father tell youtoo."
Rosa drewdown the corners of her mouth.
"Herecomes the father. You go into the bedroom and fetch my bluesilkhandkerchief. You can wear my black shawl while I'm out--there now!"
Rosadragged it off her mother's shoulders and wound it carefully roundherowntyingthe two ends in a knot at the back. After allshe reflectedif she hadto go to bed at half past eight she would keep the shawl on.Whichresolution comforted her absolutely.
"Nowthenwhere are my clothes?" cried Herr Brechenmacherhanginghisemptyletter-bag behind the door and stamping the snow out of his boots."Nothingreadyof courseand everybody at the wedding by this time. Iheard themusic as I passed. What are you doing? You're notdressed. Youcan't golike that."
"Herethey are--all ready for you on the tableand some warm water in thetinbasin. Dip your head in. Rosagive your father thetowel.Everythingready except the trousers. I haven't had time to shorten them.You musttuck the ends into your boots until we get there."
"Nu"said the Herr"there isn't room to turn. I want thelight. You goand dressin the passage."
Dressingin the dark was nothing to Frau Brechenmacher. She hooked herskirt andbodicefastened her handkerchief round her neck with a beautifulbroochthat had four medals to the Virgin dangling from itand then drewon hercloak and hood.
"Herecome and fasten this buckle" called Herr Brechenmacher. He stoodin thekitchen puffing himself outthe buttons on his blue uniform shiningwith anenthusiasm which nothing but official buttons could possiblypossess. "How do I look?"
"Wonderful"replied the little Fraustraining at the waist buckle andgiving hima little pull herea little tug there. "Rosacome andlook atyourfather."
HerrBrechenmacher strode up and down the kitchenwas helped on with hiscoatthenwaited while the Frau lighted the lantern.
"Nowthen--finished at last! Come along."
"ThelampRosa" warned the Frauslamming the front door behindthem.
Snow hadnot fallen all day; the frozen ground was slippery as an icepond.She hadnot been out of the house for weeks pastand the day had soflurriedher that she felt muddled and stupid--felt that Rosa had pushedher out ofthe house and her man was running away from her.
"Waitwait!" she cried.
"No. I'll get my feet damp--you hurry."
It waseasier when they came into the village. There were fences toclingtoandleading from the railway station to the Gasthaus a little path ofcindershad been strewn for the benefit of the wedding guests.
TheGasthaus was very festive. Lights shone out from every windowwreathsof firtwigs hung from the ledges. Branches decorated the front doorswhichswung openand in the hall the landlord voiced his superiority bybullyingthe waitresseswho ran about continually with glasses of beertrays ofcups and saucersand bottles of wine.
"Upthe stairs--up the stairs!" boomed the landlord. "Leaveyour coats onthelanding."
HerrBrechenmachercompletely overawed by this grand mannerso farforgothis rightsas a husband as to beg his wife's pardon for jostling heragainstthe banisters in his efforts to get ahead of everybody else.
HerrBrechenmacher's colleagues greeted him with acclamation as he enteredthe doorof the Festsaaland the Frau straightened her brooch and foldedher handsassuming the air of dignity becoming to the wife of a postmanand themother of five children. Beautiful indeed was the Festsaal. Threelongtables were grouped at one endthe remainder of the floor spaceclearedfor dancing. Oil lampshanging from the ceilingshed a warmbrightlight on the walls decorated with paper flowers and garlands; shed awarmerbrighter light on the red faces of the guests in their bestclothes.
At thehead of the centre table sat the bride and bridegroomshe in awhitedress trimmed with stripes and bows of coloured ribbongiving hertheappearance of an iced cake all ready to be cut and served in neatlittlepieces to the bridegroom beside herwho wore a suit of whiteclothesmuch too large for him and a white silk tie that rose halfway uphiscollar. Grouped about themwith a fine regard for dignity andprecedencesat their parents and relations; and perched on a stool at thebride'sright hand a little girl in a crumpled muslin dress with a wreathofforget-me-nots hanging over one ear. Everybody was laughing andtalkingshaking handsclinking glassesstamping on the floor--a stenchof beerand perspiration filled the air.
FrauBrechenmacherfollowing her man down the room after greeting thebridalpartyknew that she was going to enjoy herself. She seemed tofillout andbecome rosy and warm as she sniffed that familiar festive smell.Somebodypulled at her skirtandlooking downshe saw Frau Ruppthebutcher'swifewho pulled out an empty chair and begged her to sit besideher.
"Fritzwill get you some beer" she said. "My dearyourskirt is open atthe back. We could not help laughing as you walked up the room with thewhite tapeof your petticoat showing!"
"Buthow frightful!" said Frau Brechenmachercollapsing into herchair andbiting herlip.
"Nait's over now" said Frau Ruppstretching her fat hands overthetable andregarding her three mourning rings with intense enjoyment; "butone mustbe carefulespecially at a wedding."
"Andsuch a wedding as this" cried Frau Ledermannwho sat on theotherside ofFrau Brechenmacher. "Fancy Theresa bringing that childwith her.It's herown childyou knowmy dearand it's going to live with them.That'swhat I call a sin against the Church for a free-born child to attendits ownmother's wedding."
The threewomen sat and stared at the bridewho remained very stillwitha littlevacant smile on her lipsonly her eyes shifting uneasily fromside toside.
"Beerthey've given ittoo" whispered Frau Rupp"and whitewine and anice. It never did have a stomach; she ought to have left it at home."
FrauBrechenmacher turned round and looked towards the bride's mother. Shenever tookher eyes off her daughterbut wrinkled her brown forehead likean oldmonkeyand nodded now and again very solemnly. Her hands shookasshe raisedher beer mugand when she had drunk she spat on the floor andsavagelywiped her mouth with her sleeve. Then the music started and shefollowedTheresa with her eyeslooking suspiciously at each man who dancedwith her.
"Cheerupold woman" shouted her husbanddigging her in the ribs;"thisisn'tTheresa's funeral." He winked at the guestswho brokeinto loudlaughter.
"I AMcheerful" mumbled the old womanand beat upon the table withherfistkeeping time to the musicproving she was not out of thefestivities.
"Shecan't forget how wild Theresa has been" said Frau Ledermann. "Whocould--withthe child there? I heard that last Sunday evening Theresa hadhystericsand said that she would not marry this man. They had to get thepriest toher."
"Whereis the other one?" asked Frau Brechenmacher. "Whydidn't he marryher?"
The womanshrugged her shoulders.
"Gone--disappeared. He was a travellerand only stayed at their house twonights. He was selling shirt buttons--I bought some myselfand they werebeautifulshirt buttons--but what a pig of a fellow! I can't think whathesaw insuch a plain girl--but you never know. Her mother says she'sbeenlike fireever since she was sixteen!"
FrauBrechenmacher looked down at her beer and blew a little hole in thefroth.
"That'snot how a wedding should be" she said; "it's not religionto lovetwo men."
"Nicetime she'll have with this one" Frau Rupp exclaimed. "Hewaslodgingwith me last summer and I had to get rid of him. He neverchangedhisclothes once in two monthsand when I spoke to him of the smell inhisroom hetold me he was sure it floated up from the shop. Ahevery wifehas hercross. Isn't that truemy dear?"
FrauBrechenmacher saw her husband among his colleagues at the next table.He wasdrinking far too muchshe knew--gesticulating wildlythe salivasplutteringout of his mouth as he talked.
"Yes"she assented"that's true. Girls have a lot to learn."
Wedged inbetween these two fat old womenthe Frau had no hope of beingasked todance. She watched the couples going round and round; sheforgother fivebabies and her man and felt almost like a girl again. The musicsoundedsad and sweet. Her roughened hands clasped and unclaspedthemselvesin the folds of her skirt. While the music went on she wasafraid tolook anybody in the faceand she smiled with a little nervoustremorround the mouth.
"Butmy God" Frau Rupp cried"they've given that child ofTheresa's apiece ofsausage. It's to keep her quiet. There's going to be apresentationnow--your man has to speak."
FrauBrechenmacher sat up stiffly. The music ceasedand the dancerstooktheirplaces again at the tables.
HerrBrechenmacher alone remained standing--he held in his hands a bigsilvercoffee-pot. Everybody laughed at his speechexcept the Frau;everybodyroared at his grimacesand at the way he carried the coffee-potto thebridal pairas if it were a baby he was holding.
She liftedthe lidpeeped inthen shut it down with a little scream andsat bitingher lips. The bridegroom wrenched the pot away from her anddrew fortha baby's bottle and two little cradles holding china dolls. Ashe dandledthese treasures before Theresa the hot room seemed to heave andsway withlaughter.
FrauBrechenmacher did not think it funny. She stared round at thelaughingfacesand suddenly they all seemed strange to her. She wantedtogo homeand never come out again. She imagined that all these peoplewerelaughingat hermore people than there were in the room even--all laughingat herbecause they were so much stronger than she was.
...Theywalked home in silence. Herr Brechenmacher strode aheadshestumbledafterhim. White and forsaken lay the road from the railway stationtotheirhouse--a cold rush of wind blew her hood from her faceand suddenlysheremembered how they had come home together the first night. Nowtheyhad fivebabies and twice as much money; BUT--
"Nawhat is it all for?" she mutteredand not until she had reachedhomeandprepared a little supper of meat and bread for her man did she stopaskingherself that silly question.
HerrBrechenmacher broke the bread into his platesmeared it round withhis forkand chewed greedily.
"Good?"she askedleaning her arms on the table and pillowing her breastagainstthem.
He took apiece of the crumbwiped it round his plate edgeand held it upto hermouth. She shook her head.
"Nothungry" she said.
"Butit is one of the best piecesand full of the fat."
He clearedthe plate; then pulled off his boots and flung them into acorner.
"Notmuch of a wedding" he saidstretching out his feet andwriggling histoes inthe worsted socks.
"N--no"she repliedtaking up the discarded boots and placing them on theoven todry.
HerrBrechenmacher yawned and stretched himselfand then looked up athergrinning.
"Rememberthe night that we came home? You were an innocent oneyouwere."
"Getalong! Such a time ago I forget." Well sheremembered.
"Sucha clout on the ear as you gave me...But I soon taught you."
"Ohdon't start talking. You've too much beer. Come to bed."
He tiltedback in his chairchuckling with laughter.
"That'snot what you said to me that night. Godthe trouble you gaveme!"
But thelittle Frau seized the candle and went into the next room. Thechildrenwere all soundly sleeping. She stripped the mattress off thebaby's bedto see if he was still drythen began unfastening her blouseand skirt.
"Alwaysthe same" she said--"all over the world the same; butGodinheaven--butSTUPID.
Then eventhe memory of the wedding faded quite. She lay down on the bedand puther arm across her face like a child who expected to be hurt asHerrBrechenmacher lurched in.
"Good-evening"said the Herr Professorsqueezing my hand; "wonderfulweather! I have just returned from a party in the wood. I have beenmakingmusic for them on my trombone. You knowthese pine-treesprovidemostsuitable accompaniment for a trombone! They are sighingdelicacyagainstsustained strengthas I remarked once in a lecture on windinstrumentsin Frankfort. May I be permitted to sit beside you on thisbenchgnadige Frau?"
He satdowntugging at a white-paper package in the tail pocket of hiscoat.
"Cherries"he saidnodding and smiling. "There is nothing likecherriesforproducing free saliva after trombone playingespecially afterGrieg's'Ich LiebeDich.' Those sustained blasts on 'liebe' make my throat as dryas arailway tunnel. Have some?" He shook the bag at me.
"Iprefer watching you eat them."
"Ahha!" He crossed his legssticking the cherry bag betweenhis kneesto leaveboth hands free. "Psychologically I understood yourrefusal. Itis yourinnate feminine delicacy in preferring etherealised sensations...Orperhapsyou do not care to eat the worms. All cherries contain worms.Once Imade a very interesting experiment with a colleague of mine at theuniversity. We bit into four pounds of the best cherries and did not findonespecimen without a worm. But what would you? As Iremarked to himafterwards--dearfriendit amounts to this: if one wishes to satisfy thedesires ofnature one must be strong enough to ignore the facts ofnature...Theconversation is not out of your depth? I have so seldom thetime oropportunity to open my heart to a woman that I am apt to forget."
I lookedat him brightly.
"Seewhat a fat one!" cried the Herr Professor. "That isalmost a mouthfulin itself;it is beautiful enough to hang from a watch-chain." Hechewedit up andspat the stone an incredible distance--over the garden path intothe flowerbed. He was proud of the feat. I saw it. "Thequantity offruit Ihave eaten on this bench" he sighed; "apricotspeachesandcherries. One day that garden bed will become an orchard groveand Ishallallow you to pick as much as you pleasewithout paying me anything."
I wasgratefulwithout showing undue excitement.
"Whichreminds me"--he hit the side of his nose with one finger--"themanager ofthe pension handed me my weekly bill after dinner this evening.It isalmost impossible to credit. I do not expect you to believeme--hehascharged me extra for a miserable little glass of milk I drink in bedatnight toprevent insomnia. NaturallyI did not pay. But thetragedy ofthe storyis this: I cannot expect the milk to produce somnolence anylonger; mypeaceful attitude of mind towards it is completely destroyed. Iknow Ishall throw myself into a fever in attempting to plumb this want ofgenerosityin so wealthy a man as the manager of a pension. Think of meto-night."--heground the empty bag under his heel--"think that the worstishappening to me as your head drops asleep on your pillow."
Two ladiescame on the front steps of the pension and stoodarm in armlookingover the garden. The oneold and scraggydressed almostentirelyin blackbead trimming and a satin reticule; the otheryoung and thinina whitegownher yellow hair tastefully garnished with mauve sweet peas.
TheProfessor drew in his feet and sat up sharplypulling down hiswaistcoat.
"TheGodowskas" he murmured. "Do you know them? Amother and daughterfromVienna. The mother has an internal complaint and the daughteris anactress. Fraulein Sonia is a very modern soul. I think you would findhermostsympathetic. She is forced to be in attendance on her motherjustnow. But what a temperament! I have once described her in herautographalbum as atigress with a flower in the hair. Will you excuse me? PerhapsI canpersuade them to be introduced to you."
I said"Iam going up to my room." But the Professor rose and shookaplayfulfinger at me. "Na" he said"we are friendsandthereforeIshallspeak quite frankly to you. I think they would consider it alittle'marked'if you immediately retired to the house at their approachaftersittinghere alone with me in the twilight. You know this world. Yesyouknow it asI do."
I shruggedmy shouldersremarking with one eye that while the Professorhad beentalking the Godowskas had trailed across the lawn towards us.Theyconfronted the Herr Professor as he stood up.
"Good-evening"quavered Frau Godowska. "Wonderful weather! It hasgivenme quite atouch of hay fever!" Fraulein Godowska said nothing. Sheswoopedover a rose growing in the embryo orchard then stretched out herhand witha magnificent gesture to the Herr Professor. He presented me.
"Thisis my little English friend of whom I have spoken. She is thestrangerin our midst. We have been eating cherries together."
"Howdelightful" sighed Frau Godowska. "My daughter and Ihave oftenobservedyou through the bedroom window. Haven't weSonia?"
Soniaabsorbed my outward and visible form with an inward and spiritualglancethen repeated the magnificent gesture for my benefit. The fourofus sat onthe benchwith that faint air of excitement of passengersestablishedin a railway carriage on the qui vive for the train whistle.FrauGodowska sneezed. "I wonder if it is hay fever" sheremarkedworryingthe satin reticule for her handkerchief"or would it be thedew.Soniadearis the dew falling?"
FrauleinSonia raised her face to the skyand half closed her eyes. "Nomammamyface is quite warm. OhlookHerr Professorthere areswallowsin flight;they are like a little flock of Japanese thoughts--nicht wahr?"
"Where?"cried the Herr Professor. "Oh yesI seeby the kitchenchimney.But why doyou say 'Japanese'? Could you not compare them with equalveracityto a little flock of German thoughts in flight?" Herounded onme. "Have you swallows in England?"
"Ibelieve there are some at certain seasons. But doubtless theyhave notthe samesymbolical value for the English. In Germany--"
"Ihave never been to England" interrupted Fraulein Sonia"butI havemanyEnglish acquaintances. They are so cold!" Sheshivered.
"Fish-blooded"snapped Frau Godowska. "Without soulwithout heartwithoutgrace. But you cannot equal their dress materials. Ispent a weekinBrighton twenty years agoand the travelling cape I bought there isnotyet wornout--the one you wrap the hot-water bottle inSonia. Mylamentedhusbandyour fatherSoniaknew a great deal about England. But themorehe knewabout it the oftener he remarked to me'England is merely anisland ofbeef flesh swimming in a warm gulf sea of gravy.' Such abrilliantway of putting things. Do you rememberSonia?"
"Iforget nothingmamma" answered Sonia.
Said theHerr Professor: "That is the proof of your callinggnadigesFraulein. Now I wonder--and this is a very interesting speculation--ismemory ablessing or--excuse the word--a curse?"
FrauGodowska looked into the distancethen the corners of her mouthdroppedand her skin puckered. She began to shed tears.
"AchGott! Gracious ladywhat have I said?" exclaimed the HerrProfessor.
Sonia tookher mother's hand. "Do you know" she said"to-nightit isstewedcarrots and nut tart for supper. Suppose we go in and take ourplaces"her sidelongtragic stare accusing the Professor and me thewhile.
I followedthem across the lawn and up the steps. Frau Godowska wasmurmuring"Such a wonderfulbeloved man"; with her disengaged handFrauleinSonia was arranging the sweet pea "garniture."
"Aconcert for the benefit of afflicted Catholic infants will take placeinthe salonat eight-thirty P.M. Artists: Fraulein Sonia GodowskafromVienna;Herr Professor Windberg and his trombone; Frau Oberlehrer Weidelandothers."
Thisnotice was tied round the neck of the melancholy stag's head in thedining-room. It graced him like a red and white dinner bib for days beforethe eventcausing the Herr Professor to bow before it and say "goodappetite"until we sickened of his pleasantry and left the smiling to bedone bythe waiterwho was paid to be pleasing to the guests.
On theappointed day the married ladies sailed about the pension dressedlikeupholstered chairsand the unmarried ladies like draped muslindressing-tablecovers. Frau Godowska pinned a rose in the centre of herreticule;another blossom was tucked in the mazy folds of a whiteantimacassarthrown across her breast. The gentlemen wore black coatswhite silkties and ferny buttonholes tickling the chin.
The floorof the salon was freshly polishedchairs and benches arrangedand a rowof little flags strung across the ceiling--they flew and jiggedin thedraught with all the enthusiasm of family washing. It wasarrangedthat Ishould sit beside Frau Godowskaand that the Herr Professor andSoniashould join us when their share of the concert was over.
"Thatwill make you feel quite one of the performers" said the HerrProfessorgenially. "It is a great pity that the English nation issounmusical. Never mind! To-night you shall hear something--we havediscovereda nest of talent during the rehearsals."
"Whatdo you intend to reciteFraulein Sonia?"
She shookback her hair. "I never know until the last moment. When I comeon thestage I wait for one moment and then I have the sensation as thoughsomethingstruck me here"--she placed her hand upon her collarbrooch--"and...wordscome!"
"Benddown a moment" whispered her mother. "Sonialoveyour skirtsafety-pinis showing at the back. Shall I come outside and fasten itproperlyfor youor will you do it yourself?"
"Ohmammaplease don't say such things" Sonia flushed and grewveryangry. "You know how sensitive I am to the slightest unsympatheticimpressionat a time like this...I would rather my skirt dropped off mybody--"
The waitercame in and opened the piano. In the heated excitement of themoment heentirely forgot what was fittingand flicked the keys with thegrimytable napkin he carried over his arm. The Frau Oberlehrertripped ontheplatform followed by a very young gentlemanwho blew his nose twicebefore hehurled his handkerchief into the bosom of the piano.
"YesI know you have no love for me Andno forget-me-not. Noloveno heartand no forget-me-not."
sang theFrau Oberlehrerin a voice that seemed to issue from herforgottenthimble and have nothing to do with her.
"Achhow sweethow delicate" we criedclapping her soothingly. Shebowed asthough to say"Yesisn't it?" and retiredthe very younggentlemandodging her train and scowling.
The pianowas closedan arm-chair was placed in the centre of theplatform. Fraulein Sonia drifted towards it. A breathless pause. Thenpresumablythe winged shaft struck her collar brooch. She implored us notto go intothe woods in trained dressesbut rather as lightly draped aspossibleand bed with her among the pine needles. Her loudslightlyharshvoice filled the salon. She dropped her arms over the back ofthechairmoving her lean hands from the wrists. We were thrilled andsilent.The HerrProfessorbeside meabnormally serioushis eyes bulgingpulledat hismoustache ends. Frau Godowska adopted that peculiarly detachedattitudeof the proud parent. The only soul who remained untouched byherappeal wasthe waiterwho leaned idly against the wall of the salon andcleanedhis nails with the edge of a programme. He was "off duty"andintendedto show it.
"Whatdid I say?" shouted the Herr Professor under cover of tumultuousapplause"tem-per-ament! There you have it. She is a flame inthe heartof alily. I know I am going to play well. It is my turn now. I aminspired. Fraulein Sonia"--as that lady returned to uspale and draped ina largeshawl--"you are my inspiration. To-night you shall be thesoul ofmytrombone. Wait only."
To rightand left of us people bent over and whispered admiration downFrauleinSonia's neck. She bowed in the grand style.
"I amalways successful" she said to me. "You seewhen Iact I AM. InViennainthe plays of Ibsen we had so many bouquets that the cook hadthree inthe kitchen. But it is difficult here. There is so littlemagic.Do you notfeel it? There is none of that mysterious perfume which floatsalmost asa visible thing from the souls of the Viennese audiences. Myspiritstarves for want of that." She leaned forwardchin onhand."Starves"she repeated.
TheProfessor appeared with his tromboneblew into itheld it up to oneeyetucked back his shirt cuffs and wallowed in the soul of SoniaGodowska. Such a sensation did he create that he was recalled to play aBavariandancewhich he acknowledged was to be taken as a breathingexerciserather than an artistic achievement. Frau Godowska kept time toit with afan.
Followedthe very young gentleman who piped in a tenor voice that he lovedsomebody"with blood in his heart and a thousand pains." Fraulein Soniaacted apoison scene with the assistance of her mother's pill vial and thearm-chairreplaced by a "chaise longue"; a young girl scratched alullabyon a youngfiddle; and the Herr Professor performed the last sacrificialrites onthe altar of the afflicted children by playing the NationalAnthem.
"NowI must put mamma to bed" whispered Fraulein Sonia. "Butafterwards Imust takea walk. It is imperative that I free my spirit in the open airfor amoment. Would you come with me as far as the railway stationandback?"
"Verywellthenknock on my door when you're ready."
Thus themodern soul and I found ourselves together under the stars.
"Whata night!" she said. "Do you know that poem of Sapphoabout her handsin thestars...I am curiously sapphic. And this is so remarkable--notonlyam IsapphicI find in all the works of all the greatest writersespeciallyin their unedited letterssome touchsome sign of myself--someresemblancesome part of myselflike a thousand reflections of my ownhands in adark mirror."
"Butwhat a bother" said I.
"I donot know what you mean by 'bother'; is it rather the curse of mygenius..." She paused suddenlystaring at me. "Do you know mytragedy?"she asked.
I shook myhead.
"Mytragedy is my mother. Living with her I live with the coffin ofmyunbornaspirations. You heard that about the safety-pin to-night. It mayseem toyou a little thingbut it ruined my three first gestures. Theywere--"
"Impaledon a safety-pin" I suggested.
"Yesexactly that. And when we are in Vienna I am the victim ofmoodsyou know. I long to do wildpassionate things. And mamma says'Pleasepour outmy mixture first.' Once I remember I flew into a rage and threwawashstandjug out of the window. Do you know what she said? 'Soniait isnot somuch throwing things out of windowsif only you would--'"
"Choosesomething smaller?" said I.
"No...'tellme about it beforehand.' Humiliating! And I do not seeanypossiblelight out of this darkness."
"Whydon't you join a touring company and leave your mother in Vienna?"
"What! Leave my poorlittlesickwidowed mother in Vienna! Soonerthanthat Iwould drown myself. I love my mother as I love nobody else intheworld--nobodyand nothing! Do you think it is impossible to love one'stragedy? 'Out of my great sorrows I make my little songs' that is Heineormyself."
"Ohwellthat's all right" I said cheerfully.
"'Butit is not all right!"
Isuggested we should turn back. We turned.
"SometimesI think the solution lies in marriage" said Fraulein Sonia."If Ifind a simplepeaceful man who adores me and will look after mamma--a manwho would be for me a pillow--for genius cannot hope to mate--Ishallmarry him...You know the Herr Professor has paid me very markedattentions."
"OhFraulein Sonia" I saidvery pleased with myself"why notmarry himto yourmother?" We were passing the hairdresser's shop at themoment.FrauleinSonia clutched my arm.
"Youyou" she stammered. "The cruelty. I am goingto faint. Mamma tomarryagain before I marry--the indignity. I am going to faint hereandnow."
I wasfrightened. "You can't" I saidshaking her.
"Comeback to the pension and faint as much as you please. But youcan'tfainthere. All the shops are closed. There is nobody about. Pleasedon't beso foolish."
"Hereand here only!" She indicated the exact spot and droppedquitebeautifullylying motionless.
"Verywell" I said"faint away; but please hurry over it."
She didnot move. I began to walk homebut each time I looked behindme Isaw thedark form of the modern soul prone before the hairdresser's window.Finally Iranand rooted out the Herr Professor from his room. "FrauleinSonia hasfainted" I said crossly.
"Dulieber Gott! Where? How?"
"Outsidethe hairdresser's shop in the Station Road."
"Jesusand Maria! Has she no water with her?"--he seized hiscarafe--"nobodybeside her?"
"Whereis my coat? No matterI shall catch a cold on the chest.WillinglyI shall catch one...You are ready to come with me?"
"No"I said; "you can take the waiter."
"Butshe must have a woman. I cannot be so indelicate as to attempttoloosen herstays."
"Modernsouls oughtn't to wear them" said I. He pushed past meandclattereddown the stairs.
...When Icame down to breakfast next morning there were two places vacant attable. Fraulein Sonia and Herr Professor had gone off for a day'sexcursionin the woods.
CertainlySabina did not find life slow. She was on the trot from earlymorninguntil late at night. At five o'clock she tumbled out of bedbuttonedon her clotheswearing a long-sleeved alpaca pinafore over herblackfrockand groped her way downstairs into the kitchen.
Annathecookhad grown so fat during the summer that she adored her bedbecauseshe did not have to wear her corsets therebut could spread asmuch asshe likedroll about under the great mattresscalling upon Jesusand HolyMary and Blessed Anthony himself that her life was not fit for apig in acellar.
Sabina wasnew to her work. Pink colour still flew in her cheeks; therewas alittle dimple on the left side of her mouth that even when she wasmostseriousmost absorbedpopped out and gave her away. And Annablessedthat dimple. It meant an extra half-hour in bed for her; itmadeSabinalight the fireturn out the kitchen and wash endless cups andsaucersthat had been left over from the evening before. Hansthesculleryboydid not come until seven. He was the son of the butcher--ameanundersized child very much like one of his father's sausagesSabinathought. His red face was covered with pimplesand his nailsindescribablyfilthy. When Herr Lehmann himself told Hans to get a hairpinand cleanthem he said they were stained from birth because his mother hadalways gotso inky doing the accounts--and Sabina believed him and pitiedhim.
Winter hadcome very early to Mindelbau. By the end of October the streetswerebanked waist-high with snowand the greater number of the "CureGuests"sick unto death of cold water and herbshad departed in nothingapproachingpeace. So the large salon was shut at Lehmann's and thebreakfast-roomwas all the accommodation the cafe afforded. Here the floorhad to bewashed overthe tables rubbedcoffee-cups set outeach withits littlechina platter of sugarand newspapers and magazines hung ontheirhooks along the walls before Herr Lehmann appeared at seven-thirtyand openedbusiness.
As a rulehis wife served in the shop leading into the cafebut she hadchosen thequiet season to have a babyanda big woman at the best oftimesshehad grown so enormous in the process that her husband told hershe lookedunappetisingand had better remain upstairs and sew.
Sabinatook on the extra work without any thought of extra pay. Shelovedto standbehind the countercutting up slices of Anna's marvellouschocolate-spottedconfectionsor doing up packets of sugar almonds in pinkand bluestriped bags.
"You'llget varicose veinslike me" said Anna. "That's whatthe Frau'sgottoo. No wonder the baby doesn't come! All her swelling's got intoherlegs." And Hans was immensely interested.
During themorning business was comparatively slack. Sabina answered theshop bellattended to a few customers who drank a liqueur to warm theirstomachsbefore the midday mealand ran upstairs now and again to ask theFrau ifshe wanted anything. But in the afternoon six or seven choicespiritsplayed cardsand everybody who was anybody drank tea or coffee.
She flewfrom one table to the othercounting out handfuls of smallchangegiving orders to Anna through the "slide" helping the menwiththeirheavy coatsalways with that magical child air about herthatdelightfulsense of perpetually attending a party.
"Howis the Frau Lehmann?" the women would whisper.
"Shefeels rather lowbut as well as can be expected" Sabina wouldanswernodding confidentially.
FrauLehmann's bad time was approaching. Anna and her friendsreferred toit as her"journey to Rome" and Sabina longed to ask questionsyetbeingashamed ofher ignorancewas silenttrying to puzzle it out for herself.She knewpractically nothing except that the Frau had a baby inside herwhich hadto come out--very painful indeed. One could not have onewithoutahusband--that she also realised. But what had the man got to dowith it?So shewondered as she sat mending tea towels in the eveninghead bentover herworklight shining on her brown curls. Birth--what was it?wonderedSabina. Death--such a simple thing. She had a littlepicture ofher deadgrandmother dressed in a black silk frocktired hands claspingthecrucifix that dragged between her flattened breastsmouth curiouslytightyetalmost secretly smiling. But the grandmother had been bornonce--thatwas the important fact.
As she satthere one eveningthinkingthe Young Man entered the cafeandcalled fora glass of port wine. Sabina rose slowly. The long dayand thehot roommade her feel a little languidbut as she poured out the wine shefelt theYoung Man's eyes fixed on herlooked down at him and dimpled.
"It'scold out" she saidcorking the bottle.
The YoungMan ran his hands through his snow-powdered hair and laughed.
"Iwouldn't call it exactly tropical" he said"But you'revery snug inhere--lookas though you've been asleep."
Verylanguid felt Sabina in the hot roomand the Young Man's voice wasstrong anddeep. She thought she had never seen anybody who looked sostrong--asthough he could take up the table in one hand--and his restlessgazewandering over her face and figure gave her a curious thrill deep inher bodyhalf pleasurehalf pain...She wanted to stand thereclosebesidehimwhile he drank his wine. A little silence followed. Then hetook abook out of his pocketand Sabina went back to her sewing. Sittingthere inthe cornershe listened to the sound of the leaves being turnedand theloud ticking of the clock that hung over the gilt mirror. Shewanted tolook at him again--there was a something about himin his deepvoiceeven in the way his clothes fitted. From the room above sheheardthe heavydragging sound of Frau Lehmann's footstepsand again the oldthoughtsworried Sabina. If she herself should one day look likethat--feellike that! Yet it would be very sweet to have a little baby todress andjump up and down.
"Fraulein--what'syour name--what are you smiling at?" called the YoungMan.
Sheblushed and looked uphands quiet in her laplooked across theemptytables andshook her head.
"Comehereand I'll show you a picture" he commanded.
She wentand stood beside him. He opened the bookand Sabina saw acolouredsketch of a naked girl sitting on the edge of a greatcrumpledbedaman's opera hat on the back of her head.
He put hishand over the bodyleaving only the face exposedthenscrutinisedSabina closely.
"Whatdo you mean?" she askedknowing perfectly well.
"Whyit might be your own photograph--the faceI mean--that's as far as Icanjudge."
"Butthe hair's done differently" said Sabinalaughing. Shethrew backher headand the laughter bubbled in her round white throat.
"It'srather a nice picturedon't you think?" he asked. But shewaslooking ata curious ring he wore on the hand that covered the girl's bodyand onlynodded.
"Everseen anything like it before?"
"Ohthere's plenty of those funny ones in the illustrated papers."
"Howwould you like to have your picture taken that way?"
"Me? I'd never let anybody see it. BesidesI haven't got a hat likethat!"
Again alittle silencebroken by Anna throwing up the slide.
Sabina raninto the kitchen.
"Heretake this milk and egg up to the Frau" said Anna. "Who'veyou gotin there?"
"Gotsuch a funny man! I think he's a little gone here"tapping herforehead.
Upstairsin the ugly room the Frau sat sewinga black shawl round hershouldersher feet encased in red woollen slippers. The girl put the milkon a tableby herthen stoodpolishing a spoon on her apron.
"Na"said the Frauheaving up in her chair. "Where's my man?"
"He'splaying cards over at Snipold's. Do you want him?"
"Dearheavenleave him alone. I'm nothing. I don'tmatter...And thewhole daywaiting here."
Her handshook as she wiped the rim of the glass with her fat finger.
"ShallI help you to bed?"
"Yougo downstairsleave me alone. Tell Anna not to let Hans grubthesugar--givehim one on the ear."
"Ugly--ugly--ugly"muttered Sabinareturning to the cafe where the YoungMan stoodcoat-buttonedready for departure.
"I'llcome again to-morrow" said he. "Don't twist yourhair back sotightly;it will lose all its curl."
"Wellyou are a funny one" she said. "Good night."
By thetime Sabina was ready for bed Anna was snoring. She brushed outherlong hairand gathered it in her hands...Perhaps it would be a pity if itlost allits curl. Then she looked down at her straight chemiseanddrawing itoffsat down on the side of the bed.
"Iwish" she whisperedsmiling sleepily"there was a greatbiglooking-glassin this room."
Lying downin the darknessshe hugged her little body.
"Iwouldn't be the Frau for one hundred marks--not for a thousand marks.To looklike that."
Andhalf-dreamingshe imagined herself heaving up in her chair with theport winebottle in her hand as the Young Man entered the cafe.
Cold anddark the next morning. Sabina woketiredfeeling as thoughsomethingheavy had been pressing under her heart all night. There was asound offootsteps shuffling along the passage. Herr Lehmann! Shemusthaveoverslept herself. Yeshe was rattling the door-handle.
"Onemomentone moment" she calleddragging on her stockings.
"Binatell Anna to go to the Frau--but quickly. I must ride for thenurse."
"Yesyes!" she cried. "Has it come?"
But he hadgoneand she ran over to Anna and shook her by the shoulder.
"TheFrau--the baby--Herr Lehmann for the nurse" she stuttered.
"Nameof God!" said Annaflinging herself out of bed.
Nocomplaints to-day. Importance--enthusiasm in Anna's wholebearing.
"Yourun downstairs and light the oven. Put on a pan ofwater"--speakingto animaginary sufferer as she fastened her blouse--"YesyesIknow--wemust beworse before we are better--I'm coming--patience."
It wasdark all that day. Lights were turned on immediately the cafeopenedand business was very brisk. Annaturned out of the Frau'sroomby thenurserefused to workand sat in a corner nursing herselflisteningto sounds overhead. Hans was more sympathetic than Sabina. Healsoforsook workand stood by the windowpicking his nose.
"Butwhy must I do everything?" said Sabinawashing glasses. "I can'thelp theFrau; she oughtn't to take such a time about it."
"Listen"said Anna"they've moved her into the back bedroom above hereso as notto disturb the people. That was a groan--that one!"
"Twosmall beers" shouted Herr Lehmann through the slide.
At eighto'clock the cafe was deserted. Sabina sat down in the cornerwithouther sewing. Nothing seemed to have happened to the Frau. A doctorhadcome--that was all.
"Ach"said Sabina. "I think no more of it. I listen nomore. AchIwould liketo go away--I hate this talk. I will not hear it. Noitistoomuch." She leaned both elbows on the table--cupped herface in herhands andpouted.
But theouter door suddenly openingshe sprang to her feet and laughed.It was theYoung Man again. He ordered more portand brought no book thistime.
"Don'tgo and sit miles away" he grumbled. "I want to beamused. Andheretakemy coat. Can't you dry it somewhere?--snowing again."
"There'sa warm place--the ladies' cloak-room" she said. "I'lltake it inthere--justby the kitchen."
She feltbetterand quite happy again.
"I'llcome with you" he said. "I'll see where you put it."
And thatdid not seem at all extraordinary. She laughed and beckoned tohim.
"Inhere" she cried. "Feel how warm. I'll put morewood on that oven.It doesn'tmatterthey're all busy upstairs."
She kneltdown on the floorand thrust the wood into the ovenlaughing ather ownwicked extravagance.
The Frauwas forgottenthe stupid day was forgotten. Here was someonebeside herlaughingtoo. They were together in the little warm roomstealingHerr Lehmann's wood. It seemed the most exciting adventure intheworld. She wanted to go on laughing--or burst out crying--or--or--catchhold ofthe Young Man.
"Whata fire" she shriekedstretching out her hands.
"Here'sa hand; pull up" said the Young Man. "Therenowyou'll catch itto-morrow."
They stoodopposite to each otherhands still clinging. And again thatstrangetremor thrilled Sabina.
"Lookhere" he said roughly"are you a childor are youplaying at beingone?"
Laughterceased. She looked up at him oncethen down at the floorandbeganbreathing like a frightened little animal.
He pulledher closer still and kissed her mouth.
"Nawhat are you doing?" she whispered.
He let goher handshe placed his on her breastsand the room seemed toswim roundSabina. Suddenlyfrom the room abovea frightfultearingshriek.
Shewrenched herself awaytightened herselfdrew herself up.
"Whodid that--who made that noise?"
...In thesilence the thin wailing of a baby.
"Achk!"shrieked Sabinarushing from the room.
I think itmust be the umbrellas which make us look ridiculous.
When I wasadmitted into the enclosure for the first timeand saw myfellow-batherswalking about very nearly "in their nakeds" it struck methat theumbrellas gave a distinctly "Little Black Sambo" touch.
Ridiculousdignity in holding over yourself a green cotton thing with a redparroquethandle when you are dressed in nothing larger than ahandkerchief.
There areno trees in the "Luft Bad." It boasts a collection ofplainwoodencellsa bath sheltertwo swings and two odd clubs--onepresumablythe lostproperty of Hercules or the German armyand the other to be usedwithsafety in the cradle.
And therein all weathers we take the air--walkingor sitting in littlecompaniestalking over each other's ailments and measurements and ills thatflesh isheir to.
A highwooden wall compasses us all about; above it the pine-trees lookdown alittle superciliouslynudging each other in a way that ispeculiarlytrying to a debutante. Over the wallon the right sideis themen'ssection. We hear them chopping down trees and sawing throughplanksdashingheavy weights to the groundand singing part songs. Yestheytake itfar more seriously.
On thefirst day I was conscious of my legsand went back into my cellthreetimes to look at my watchbut when a woman with whom I had playedchess forthree weeks cut me deadI took heart and joined a circle.
We laycurled on the ground while a Hungarian lady of immense proportionstold uswhat a beautiful tomb she had bought for her second husband.
"Avault it is" she said"with nice black railings. And so large that Ican godown there and walk about. Both their photographs are therewithtwo veryhandsome wreaths sent me by my first husband's brother. Thereisanenlargement of a family group photographtooand an illuminatedaddresspresented to my first husband on his marriage. I am oftenthere;it makessuch a pleasant excursion for a fine Saturday afternoon."
Shesuddenly lay down flat on her backtook in six long breathsand satup again.
"Thedeath agony was dreadful" she said brightly; "of thesecondI mean.The'first' was run into by a furniture wagonand had fifty marks stolenout of anew waistcoat pocketbut the 'second' was dying for sixty-sevenhours. I never ceased crying once--not even to put the children to bed."
A youngRussianwith a "bang" curl on her foreheadturned to me.
"Canyou do the 'Salome' dance?" she asked. "I can."
"Howdelightful" I said.
"ShallI do it now? Would you like to see me?"
She sprangto her feetexecuted a series of amazing contortions for thenext tenminutesand then pausedpantingtwisting her long hair.
"Isn'tthat nice?" she said. "And now I am perspiring sosplendidly. Ishall goand take a bath."
Oppositeto me was the brownest woman I have ever seenlying on her backher armsclasped over her head.
"Howlong have you been here to-day?" she was asked.
"OhI spend the day here now" she answered. "I am makingmy own 'cure'and livingentirely on raw vegetables and nutsand each day I feel myspirit isstronger and purer. After allwhat can you expect? Themajorityof us are walking about with pig corpuscles and oxen fragments inourbrain. The wonder is the world is as good as it is. Now Ilive on thesimpleprovided food"--she pointed to a little bag beside her--"alettucea carrota potatoand some nuts are amplerational nourishment. I washthem underthe tap and eat them rawjust as they come from the harmlessearth--freshand uncontaminated."
"Doyou take nothing else all day?" I cried.
"Water. And perhaps a banana if I wake in the night." She turnedroundand leanedon one elbow. "You over-eat yourself dreadfully" shesaid;"shamelessly! How can you expect the Flame of the Spirit to burn brightlyunderlayers of superfluous flesh?"
I wishedshe would not stare at meand thought of going to look at mywatchagain when a little girl wearing a string of coral beads joined us.
"Thepoor Frau Hauptmann cannot join us to-day" she said; "shehas comeout inspots all over on account of her nerves. She was very excitedyesterdayafter having written two post-cards."
"Adelicate woman" volunteered the Hungarian"but pleasant. Fancyshehas aseparate plate for each of her front teeth! But she has noright tolet herdaughters wear such short sailor suits. They sit about onbenchescrossingtheir legs in a most shameless manner. What are you going to dothisafternoonFraulein Anna?"
"Oh"said the Coral Necklace"the Herr Oberleutnant has asked me togowith himto Landsdorf. He must buy some eggs there to take home to hismother. He saves a penny on eight eggs by knowing the right peasants tobargainwith."
"Areyou an American?" said the Vegetable Ladyturning to me.
"Thenyou are an Englishwoman?"
"Youmust be one of the two; you cannot help it. I have seen youwalkingaloneseveral times. You wear your--"
I got upand climbed on to the swing. The air was sweet and coolrushingpast mybody. Abovewhite clouds trailed delicately through the bluesky.From thepine forest streamed a wild perfumethe branches swayed togetherrhythmicallysonorously. I felt so light and free and happy--so childish!I wantedto poke my tongue out at the circle on the grasswhodrawingclosetogetherwere whispering meaningly.
"Perhapsyou do not know" cried a voice from one of the cells"toswingis veryupsetting for the stomach? A friend of mine could keep nothingdown forthree weeks after exciting herself so."
I went tothe bath shelter and was hosed.
As Idressedsomeone tapped on the wall.
"Doyou know" said a voice"there is a man who LIVES in theLuft Bad nextdoor? He buries himself up to the armpits in mud and refuses to believe intheTrinity."
Theumbrellas are the saving grace of the Luft Bad. Now when I goI takemyhusband's "storm" gamp and sit in a cornerhiding behindit.
Not that Iam in the least ashamed of my legs.
AndreasBinzer woke slowly. He turned over on the narrow bed andstretchedhimself--yawned--openinghis mouth as widely as possible and bringing histeethtogether afterwards with a sharp "click." The soundof that clickfascinatedhim; he repeated it quickly several timeswith a snappingmovementof the jaws. What teeth! he thought. Sound as a bellevery manjack ofthem. Never had one outnever had one stopped. Thatcomes of notomfooleryin eatingand a good regular brushing night and morning. Heraisedhimself on his left elbow and waved his right arm over the side ofthe bed tofeel for the chair where he put his watch and chain overnight.No chairwas there--of coursehe'd forgottenthere wasn't a chair in thiswretchedspare room. Had to put the confounded thing under his pillow."Half-pasteightSundaybreakfast at nine--time for the bath"--his brainticked tothe watch. He sprang out of bed and went over to the window.Thevenetian blind was brokenhung fan-shaped over the upperpane..."Thatblind mustbe mended. I'll get the office boy to drop in and fix it on hisway hometo-morrow--he's a good hand at blinds. Give him twopence andhe'll doit as well as a carpenter...Anna could do it herself if she wasallright. So would Ifor the matter of thatbut I don't like totrustmyself onrickety step-ladders." He looked up at the sky: itshonestrangelywhiteunflecked with cloud; he looked down at the row of gardenstrips andbackyards. The fence of these gardens was built along the edgeof agullyspanned by an iron suspension bridgeand the people had awretchedhabit of throwing their empty tins over the fence into the gully.Just likethemof course! Andreas started counting the tinsanddecidedviciouslyto write a letter to the papers about it and sign it--sign it infull.
Theservant girl came out of their back door into the yardcarrying hisboots. She threw one down on the groundthrust her hand into the otherand staredat itsucking in her cheeks. Suddenly she bent forwardspaton thetoecapand started polishing with a brush rooted out of her apronpocket..."Slutof a girl! Heaven knows what infectious disease may bebreedingnow in that boot. Anna must get rid of that girl--even if shehasto dowithout one for a bit--as soon as she's up and about again. Thewayshechucked one boot down and then spat upon the other! She didn'tcarewhoseboots she'd got hold of. SHE had no false notions of therespect dueto themaster of the house." He turned away from the window andswitchedhis bathtowel from the washstand railsick at heart. "I'm toosensitivefor aman--that's what's the matter with me. Have been from thebeginningand willbe to the end."
There wasa gentle knock at the door and his mother came in. She closedthe doorafter her and leant against it. Andreas noticed that her capwascrookedand a long tail of hair hung over her shoulder. He went forwardand kissedher.
"Goodmorningmother; how's Anna?"
The oldwoman spoke quicklyclasping and unclasping her hands.
"Andreasplease go to Doctor Erb as soon as you are dressed."
"Why"he said"is she bad?"
FrauBinzer noddedand Andreaswatching hersaw her face suddenlychange; afine network of wrinkles seemed to pull over it from under theskinsurface.
"Sitdown on the bed a moment" he said. "Been up allnight?"
"Yes. NoI won't sit downI must go back to her. Anna has been inpainallnight. She wouldn't have you disturbed before because she saidyoulooked sorun down yesterday. You told her you had caught a cold and beenveryworried."
StraightwayAndreas felt that he was being accused.
"Wellshe made me tell herworried it out of me; you know the way shedoes."
Again FrauBinzer nodded.
"OhyesI know. She saysis your cold betterand there's a warmundervestfor you in the left-hand corner of the big drawer."
Quiteautomatically Andreas cleared his throat twice.
"Yes"he answered. "Tell her my throat certainly feels looser. I supposeI'd betternot disturb her?"
"I'llbe ready in five minutes."
They wentinto the passage. As Frau Binzer opened the door of the frontbedroomalong wail came from the room.
Thatshocked and terrified Andreas. He dashed into the bathroomturned onboth tapsas far as they would gocleaned his teeth and pared his nailswhile thewater was running.
"Frightfulbusinessfrightful business" he heard himself whispering."AndI can't understand it. It isn't as though it were herfirst--it's herthird. Old Schafer told meyesterdayhis wife simply 'dropped' herfourth. Anna ought to have had a qualified nurse. Mother gives way toher. Mother spoils her. I wonder what she meant by saying I'dworriedAnnayesterday. Nice remark to make to a husband at a time likethis.UnstrungI suppose--and my sensitiveness again."
When hewent into the kitchen for his bootsthe servant girl was bent overthe stovecooking breakfast. "Breathing into thatnowI suppose"thoughtAndreasand was very short with the servant girl. She did notnotice. She was full of terrified joy and importance in the goings onupstairs. She felt she was learning the secrets of life with every breathshe drew. Had laid the table that morning saying"Boy" as she putdownthe firstdish"Girl" as she placed the second--it had worked outwiththesaltspoon to "Boy." "For two pins I'd tell themaster thatto comforthimlike" she decided. But the Master gave her no opening.
"Putan extra cup and saucer on the table" he said; "the doctormay wantsomecoffee."
"Thedoctorsir?" The servant girl whipped a spoon out of apanandspilt twodrops of grease on the stove. "Shall I fry somethingextra?"But themaster had goneslamming the door after him. He walked downthestreet--therewas nobody about at all--dead and alive this place on aSundaymorning. As he crossed the suspension bridge a strong stench offennel anddecayed refuse streamed from the gulleyand again Andreas beganconcoctinga letter. He turned into the main road. The shutters werestill upbefore the shops. Scraps of newspaperhayand fruit skinsstrewedthe pavement; the gutters were choked with the leavings of Saturdaynight. Two dogs sprawled in the middle of the roadscuffling and biting.Only thepublic-house at the corner was open; a young barman slopped waterover thedoorstep.
Fastidiouslyhis lips curlingAndreas picked his way through the water."Extraordinaryhow I am noticing things this morning. It's partly theeffect ofSunday. I loathe a Sunday when Anna's tied by the leg and thechildrenare away. On Sunday a man has the right to expect his family.Everythinghere's filthythe whole place might be down with the plagueand willbetooif this street's not swept away. I'd like to have ahandon thegovernment ropes." He braced his shoulders. "Nowfor this doctor."
"DoctorErb is at breakfast" the maid informed him. She showedhim intothewaiting-rooma dark and musty placewith some ferns under aglass-caseby the window. "He says he won't be a minutepleasesirandthere is apaper on the table."
"Unhealthyhole" thought Binzerwalking over to the window and drumminghisfingers on the glass fern-shade. "At breakfastis he? That's themistake Imade: turning out early on an empty stomach."
A milkcart rattled down the streetthe driver standing at the backcracking awhip; he wore an immense geranium flower stuck in the lapel ofhis coat. Firm as a rock he stoodbending back a little in the swayingcart. Andreas craned his neck to watch him all the way down the roadevenafter hehad gonelistening for the sharp sound of those rattling cans.
"H'mnot much wrong with him" he reflected. "Wouldn'tmind a taste ofthat lifemyself. Up earlywork all over by eleven o'clocknothing todobut loafabout all day until milking time." Which he knew was anexaggerationbut he wanted to pity himself.
The maidopened the doorand stood aside for Doctor Erb. Andreaswheeledround; thetwo men shook hands.
"WellBinzer" said the doctor joviallybrushing some crumbs from apearl-colouredwaistcoat"son and heir becoming importunate?"
Up wentBinzer's spirits with a bound. Son and heirby Jove! Hewas gladto have todeal with a man again. And a sane fellow thiswho came acrossthis sortof thing every day of the week.
"That'sabout the measure of itDoctor" he answeredsmiling andpickingup hishat. "Mother dragged me out of bed this morning withimperativeorders tobring you along."
"Gigwill be round in a minute. Drive back with mewon't you?Extraordinarysultry day; you're as red as a beetroot already."
Andreasaffected to laugh. The doctor had one annoying habit--imaginedhehad theright to poke fun at everybody simply because he was a doctor."Theman's riddled with conceitlike all these professionals"Andreasdecided.
"Whatsort of night did Frau Binzer have?" asked the doctor. "Ahhere'sthe gig. Tell me on the way up. Sit as near the middle as you canwillyouBinzer? Your weight tilts it over a bit one side--that's theworst ofyousuccessful business men."
"Twostone heavier than Iif he's a pound" thought Andreas. "The man maybe allright in his profession--but heaven preserve me."
"Offyou gomy beauty." Doctor Erb flicked the little brownmare. "Didyour wifeget any sleep last night?"
"No;I don't think she did" answered Andreas shortly. "Totell you thetruthI'mnot satisfied that she hasn't a nurse."
"Ohyour mother's worth a dozen nurses" cried the doctorwithimmensegusto. "To tell you the truthI'm not keen on nurses--too raw--raw asrump-steak. They wrestle for a baby as though they were wrestling withDeath forthe body of Patroclus...Ever seen that picture by an Englishartist. Leighton? Wonderful thing--full of sinew!"
"Therehe goes again" thought Andreas"airing off his knowledgeto make afool ofme."
"Nowyour mother--she's firm--she's capable. Does what she's toldwith afund ofsympathy. Look at these shops we're passing--they're festeringsores. How on earth this government can tolerate--"
"They'renot so bad--sound enough--only want a coat of paint."
The doctorwhistled a little tune and flicked the mare again.
"WellI hope the young shaver won't give his mother too much trouble"hesaid. "Here we are."
A skinnylittle boywho had been sliding up and down the back seat of thegigsprang out and held the horse's head. Andreas went straightinto thedining-roomand left the servant girl to take the doctor upstairs. He satdownpoured out some coffeeand bit through half a roll before helpinghimself tofish. Then he noticed there was no hot plate for the fish--thewholehouse was at sixes and sevens. He rang the bellbut theservantgirl camein with a tray holding a bowl of soup and a hot plate.
"I'vebeen keeping them on the stove" she simpered.
"Ahthanksthat's very kind of you." As he swallowed the souphis heartwarmed tothis fool of a girl.
"Ohit's a good thing Doctor Erb has come" volunteered the servantgirlwho wasbursting for want of sympathy.
"H'mh'm" said Andreas.
She waiteda momentexpectantlyrolling her eyesthen in full loathingof menkindwent back to the kitchen and vowed herself to sterility.
Andreascleared the soup bowland cleared the fish. As he atetheroomslowlydarkened. A faint wind sprang up and beat the tree branchesagainstthewindow. The dining-room looked over the breakwater of theharbourandthe seaswung heavily in rolling waves. Wind crept round the housemoaningdrearily.
"We'rein for a storm. That means I'm boxed up here all day. Wellthere'sone blessing; it'll clear the air." He heard the servantgirlrushingimportantly round the houseslamming windows. Then he caught aglimpse ofher in the gardenunpegging tea towels from the line across thelawn. She was a workerthere was no doubt about that. He took up abookandwheeled his arm-chair over to the window. But it was useless. Toodark toread; he didn't believe in straining his eyesand gas at teno'clock inthe morning seemed absurd. So he slipped down in the chairleaned hiselbows on the padded arms and gave himself upfor onceto idledreaming. "A boy? Yesit was bound to be a boy this time..." "What'syourfamilyBinzer?" "OhI've two girls and a boy!" A very nice littlenumber. Of course he was the last man to have a favourite childbut a manneeded ason. "I'm working up the business for my son! Binzer& Son! Itwould meanliving very tight for the next ten yearscutting expenses asfine aspossible; and then--"
Atremendous gust of wind sprang upon the houseseized itshook itdroppedonly to grip the more tightly. The waves swelled up along thebreakwaterand were whipped with broken foam. Over the white sky flewtatteredstreamers of grey cloud.
Andreasfelt quite relieved to hear Doctor Erb coming down the stairs; hegot up andlit the gas.
"Mindif I smoke in here?" asked Doctor Erblighting a cigarettebeforeAndreashad time to answer. "You don't smokedo you? Notime to indulgeinpernicious little habits!"
"Howis she now?" asked Andreasloathing the man.
"Ohwell as can be expectedpoor little soul. She begged me tocome downand have alook at you. Said she knew you were worrying." Withlaughingeyes thedoctor looked at the breakfast-table. "Managed to peck abitIseeeh?"
"Hoo-wih!"shouted the windshaking the window-sashes.
"Pity--thisweather" said Doctor Erb.
"Yesit gets on Anna's nervesand it's just nerve she wants."
"Ehwhat's that?" retorted the doctor. "Nerve! Manalive! She's gottwice thenerve of you and me rolled into one. Nerve! she's nothing butnerve. A woman who works as she does about the house and has threechildrenin four years thrown in with the dustingso to speak!"
He pitchedhis half-smoked cigarette into the fireplace and frowned at thewindow.
"NowHE'S accusing me" thought Andreas. "That's thesecond time thismorning--firstmother and now this man taking advantage of mysensitiveness." He could not trust himself to speakand rang the bell fortheservant girl.
"Clearaway the breakfast things" he ordered. "I can't havethem messingabout onthe table till dinner!"
"Don'tbe hard on the girl" coaxed Doctor Erb. "She's gottwice the workto doto-day."
At thatBinzer's anger blazed out.
"I'lltrouble youDoctornot to interfere between me and my servants!"And hefelt a fool at the same moment for not saying "servant."
Doctor Erbwas not perturbed. He shook his headthrust his hands into hispocketsand began balancing himself on toe and heel.
"You'rejagged by the weather" he said wryly"nothing else. A greatpity--thisstorm. You know climate has an immense effect upon birth. Afine dayperks a woman--gives her heart for her business. Good weatherisasnecessary to a confinement as it is to a washing day. Notbad--thatlastremark of mine--for a professional fossileh?"
Andreasmade no reply.
"WellI'll be getting back to my patient. Why don't you take a walkandclear yourhead? That's the idea for you."
"No"he answered"I won't do that; it's too rough."
He wentback to his chair by the window. While the servant girl clearedaway hepretended to read...then his dreams! It seemed years since hehadhad thetime to himself to dream like that--he never had a breathing space.Saddledwith work all dayand couldn't shake it off in the evening likeothermen. BesidesAnna was interested--they talked of practicallynothingelse together. Excellent mother she'd make for a boy; she had agrip ofthings.
Churchbells started ringing through the windy airnow sounding as thoughfrom veryfar awaythen again as though all the churches in the town hadbeensuddenly transplanted into their street. They stirred somethinginhimthosebellssomething vague and tender. Just about that time Annawould callhim from the hall. "Andreascome and have your coatbrushed.I'mready." Then off they would goshe hanging on his armand looking upat him. She certainly was a little thing. He remembered once sayingwhenthey wereengaged"Just as high as my heart" and she had jumped onto astool andpulled his head downlaughing. A kid in those daysyoungerthan herchildren in naturebrightermore "go" and "spirit"in her. Theway she'drun down the road to meet him after business! And the way shelaughedwhen they were looking for a house. By Jove! that laugh ofhers!At thememory he grinnedthen grew suddenly grave. Marriage certainlychanged awoman far more than it did a man. Talk about sobering down. Shehad lostall her go in two months! Wellonce this boy business was overshe'd getstronger. He began to plan a little trip for them. He'dtakeher awayand they'd loaf about together somewhere. After alldash itthey wereyoung still. She'd got into a groove; he'd have to force heroutof itthat's all.
He got upand went into the drawing-roomcarefully shut the door and tookAnna'sphotograph from the top of the piano. She wore a white dresswith abig bow ofsome soft stuff under the chinand stooda little stifflyholding asheaf of artificial poppies and corn in her hands. Delicate shelookedeven then; her masses of hair gave her that look. She seemed todroopunder the heavy braids of itand yet she was smiling. Andreascaught hisbreath sharply. She was his wife--that girl. Posh! it hadonlybeen takenfour years ago. He held it close to himbent forward andkissedit. Then rubbed the glass with the back of his hand. Atthatmomentfainter than he had heard in the passagemore terrifyingAndreasheardagain that wailing cry. The wind caught it up in mocking echoblewit overthe house-topsdown the streetfar away from him. He flungouthis arms"I'm so damnably helpless" he saidand thento thepicture"Perhapsit's not as bad as it sounds; perhaps it is just mysensitiveness." In the half light of the drawing-room the smile seemed todeepen inAnna's portraitand to become secreteven cruel. "No"hereflected"that smile is not at all her happiest expression--it was amistake tolet her have it taken smiling like that. She doesn't look likemywife--like the mother of my son." Yesthat was itshedid not looklike themother of a son who was going to be a partner in the firm. Thepicturegot on his nerves; he held it in different lightslooked at itfrom adistancesidewaysspentit seemed to Andreas afterwardsa wholelifetimetrying to fit it in. The more he played with it the deeper grewhisdislike of it. Thrice he carried it over to the fireplace anddecidedto chuckit behind the Japanese umbrella in the grate; then he thought itabsurd towaste an expensive frame. There was no good in beating aboutthebush. Anna looked like a stranger--abnormala freak--it might be apicturetaken just before or after death.
Suddenlyhe realised that the wind had droppedthat the whole house wasstillterribly still. Cold and palewith a disgusting feeling thatspiderswere creeping up his spine and across his facehe stood in thecentre ofthe drawing-roomhearing Doctor Erb's footsteps descending thestairs.
He sawDoctor Erb come into the room; the room seemed to change into agreatglass bowl that spun roundand Doctor Erb seemed to swim throughthis glassbowl towards himlike a goldfish in a pearl-coloured waistcoat.
"Mybeloved wife has passed away!" He wanted to shout it outbefore thedoctorspoke.
"Wellshe's hooked a boy this time!" said Doctor Erb. Andreasstaggeredforward.
"Lookout. Keep on your pins" said Doctor ErbcatchingDinzer's armandmurmuringas he felt it"Flabby as butter."
A glowspread all over Andreas. He was exultant.
"Wellby God! Nobody can accuse ME of not knowing what suffering is"hesaid.
She wasjust beginning to walk along a little white road with tall blacktrees oneither sidea little road that led to nowhereand where nobodywalked atallwhen a hand gripped her shouldershook herslapped herear.
"Ohohdon't stop me" cried the Child-Who-Was-Tired. "Letme go."
"Getupyou good-for-nothing brat" said a voice; "get up andlight theoven orI'll shake every bone out of your body."
With animmense effort she opened her eyesand saw the Frau standing bythe babybundled under one arm. The three other children who shared thesame bedwith the Child-Who-Was-Tiredaccustomed to brawlsslept onpeacefully. In a corner of the room the Man was fastening his braces.
"Whatdo you mean by sleeping like this the whole night through--like asack ofpotatoes? You've let the baby wet his bed twice."
She didnot answerbut tied her petticoat stringand buttoned on herplaidfrock with coldshaking fingers.
"Therethat's enough. Take the baby into the kitchen with youandheatthat coldcoffee on the spirit lamp for the masterand give him the loafof blackbread out of the table drawer. Don't guzzle it yourself or I'llknow."
The Fraustaggered across the roomflung herself on to her beddrawingthe pinkbolster round her shoulders.
It wasalmost dark in the kitchen. She laid the baby on the woodensettlecoveringhim with a shawlthen poured the coffee from the earthenware juginto thesaucepanand set it on the spirit lamp to boil.
"I'msleepy" nodded the Child-Who-Was-Tiredkneeling on the floorandsplittingthe damp pine logs into little chips. "That's why I'm notawake."
The oventook a long time to light. Perhaps it was coldlike herselfandsleepy...Perhapsit had been dreaming of a little white road with blacktrees oneither sidea little road that led to nowhere.
Then thedoor was pulled violently open and the Man strode in.
"Herewhat are you doingsitting on the floor?" he shouted. "Give me mycoffee. I've got to be off. Ugh! You haven't even washed over thetable."
She sprangto her feetpoured his coffee into an enamel cupand gave himbread anda knifethentaking a wash rag from the sinksmeared over theblacklinoleumed table.
"Swineof a day--swine's life" mumbled the Mansitting by the tableandstaringout of the window at the bruised skywhich seemed to bulge heavilyover thedull land. He stuffed his mouth with bread and then swilled itdown withthe coffee.
The Childdrew a pail of waterturned up her sleevesfrowning the whileat herarmsas if to scold them for being so thinso much like littlestuntedtwigsand began to mop over the floor.
"Stopsousing about the water while I'm here" grumbled the Man. "Stop thebabysnivelling; it's been going on like that all night."
The Childgathered the baby into her lap and sat rocking him.
"Ts--ts--ts"she said. "He's cutting his eye teeththat's what makeshimcry so. AND dribble--I never seen a baby dribble like this one." Shewiped hismouth and nose with a corner of her skirt. "Some babiesgettheirteeth without you knowing it" she went on"and some takeon thisway allthe time. I once heard of a baby that diedand they found allit's teethin its stomach."
The Mangot upunhooked his cloak from the back of the doorand flung itround him.
"There'sanother coming" said he.
"What--atooth!" exclaimed the Childstartled for the first time thatmorningout of her dreadful heavinessand thrusting her finger into thebaby'smouth.
"No"he said grimly"another baby. Nowget on with your work;it's timethe othersgot up for school." She stood a moment quite silentlyhearinghis heavysteps on the stone passagethen the gravel walkand finally theslam ofthe front gate.
"Anotherbaby! Hasn't she finished having them YET?" thought theChild."Twobabies getting eye teeth--two babies to get up for in the night--twobabies tocarry about and wash their little piggy clothes!" Shelookedwithhorror at the one in her armswhoseeming to understand thecontemptuousloathing of her tired glancedoubled his fistsstiffened hisbodyandbegan violently screaming.
"Ts--ts--ts." She laid him on the settle and went back to her floor-washing. He never ceased crying for a momentbut she got quite used to itand kepttime with her broom. Ohhow tired she was! Ohthe heavybroomhandle andthe burning spot just at the back of her neck that ached soanda funnylittle fluttering feeling just at the back of her waistbandasthoughsomething were going to break.
The clockstruck six. She set the pan of milk in the ovenand went intothe nextroom to wake and dress the three children. Anton and Hans laytogetherin attitudes of mutual amity which certainly never existed out oftheirsleeping hours. Lena was curled upher knees under her chinonly astraightstanding-up pigtail of hair showing above the bolster.
"Getup" cried the Childspeaking in a voice of immense authoritypullingoff the bedclothes and giving the boys sundry pokes and digs."I'vebeen calling you this last half-hour. It's lateand I'll tellonyou if youdon't get dressed this minute."
Antonawoke sufficiently to turn over and kick Hans on a tender partwhereuponHans pulled Lena's pigtail until she shrieked for her mother.
"Ohdo be quiet" whispered the Child. "Ohdo get up anddress. Youknow whatwill happen. There--I'll help you."
But thewarning came too late. The Frau got out of bedwalked in adeterminedfashion into the kitchenreturning with a bundle of twigs inher handfastened together with a strong cord. One by one she laid thechildrenacross her knee and severely beat themexpending a final burst ofenergy onthe Child-Who-Was-Tiredthen returned to bedwith a comfortablesense ofher maternal duties in good working order for the day. Verysubduedthe three allowed themselves to be dressed and washed by theChildwhoeven laced the boys' bootshaving found through experience thatif left tothemselves they hopped about for at least five minutes to find acomfortableledge for their footand then spat on their hands and brokethebootlaces.
While shegave them their breakfast they became uproariousand the babywould notcease crying. When she filled the tin kettle with milktied onthe rubberteatandfirst moistening it herselftried with littlecoaxingwords to make him drinkhe threw the bottle on to the floor andtrembledall over.
"Eyeteeth!" shouted Hanshitting Anton over the head with his emptycup;"he'sgetting the evil-eye teethI should say."
"Smarty!"retorted Lenapoking out her tongue at himand thenwhen hepromptlydid the samecrying at the top of her voice"MotherHans ismakingfaces at me!"
"That'sright" said Hans; "go on howlingand when you're in bedto-nightI'll waittill you're asleepand then I'll creep over and take a littletiny pieceof your arm and twist and twist it until--" He leant overthetablemaking the most horrible faces at Lenanot noticing that Anton wasstandingbehind his chair until the little boy bent over and spat on hisbrother'sshaven head.
TheChild-Who-Was-Tired pushed and pulled them apartmuffled them intotheircoatsand drove them out of the house.
"Hurryhurry! the second bell's rung" she urgedknowing perfectlywellshe wastelling a storyand rather exulting in the fact. She washed upthebreakfast thingsthen went down to the cellar to look out thepotatoesandbeetroot.
Such afunnycold place the coal cellar! With potatoes banked on onecornerbeetroot in an old candle boxtwo tubs of sauerkrautand atwistedmass of dahlia roots--that looked as real as though they werefightingone anotherthought the Child.
Shegathered the potatoes into her skirtchoosing big ones with few eyesbecausethey were easier to peeland bending over the dull heap in thesilentcellarshe began to nod.
"Hereyouwhat are you doing down there?" cried the Fraufrom thetop ofthestairs. "The baby's fallen off the settleand got a bumpas big as anegg overhis eye. Come up hereand I'll teach you!"
"Itwasn't me--it wasn't me!" screamed the Childbeaten from oneside ofthe hallto the otherso that the potatoes and beetroot rolled out of herskirt.
The Frauseemed to be as big as a giantand there was a certain heavinessin all hermovements that was terrifying to anyone so small.
"Sitin the cornerand peel and wash the vegetablesand keep the babyquietwhile I do the washing."
Whimperingshe obeyedbut as to keeping the baby quietthat wasimpossible. His face was hotlittle beads of sweat stood all over hisheadandhe stiffened his body and cried. She held him on her kneeswitha pan ofcold water beside her for the cleaned vegetables and the "ducks'bucket"for the peelings.
"Ts--ts--ts!"she croonedscraping and boring; "there's going to beanothersoonand you can't both keep on crying. Why don't you go tosleepbaby? I wouldif I were you. I'll tell you a dream. Once upon atime therewas a little white road--"
She shookback her heada great lump ached in her throat and then thetears randown her face on to the vegetables.
"That'sno good" said the Childshaking them away. "Juststop cryinguntil I'vefinished thisbabyand I'll walk you up and down."
But bythat time she had to peg out the washing for the Frau. A windhadsprungup. Standing on tiptoe in the yardshe almost felt she wouldbeblownaway. There was a bad smell coming from the ducks' coopwhichwashalf fullof manure waterbut away in the meadow she saw the grass blowinglikelittle green hairs. And she remembered having heard of a childwhohad onceplayed for a whole day in just such a meadow with real sausagesand beerfor her dinner--and not a little bit of tiredness. Who had toldher thatstory? She could not rememberand yet it was so plain.
The wetclothes flapped in her face as she pegged them; danced and jiggedon thelinebulged out and twisted. She walked back to the house withlaggingstepslooking longingly at the grass in the meadow.
"Whatmust I do nowplease?" she said.
"Makethe beds and hang the baby's mattress out of the windowthen get thewagon andtake him for a little walk along the road. In front of thehousemind--where I can see you. Don't stand theregaping! Then come inwhen Icall you and help me cut up the salad."
When shehad made the beds the Child stood and looked at them. Gentlyshestrokedthe pillow with her handand thenjust for one momentlet herhead restthere. Again the smarting lump in her throatthe stupid tearsthat felland kept on falling as she dressed the baby and dragged thelittlewagon up and down the road.
A manpasseddriving a bullock wagon. He wore a longqueer featherinhis hatand whistled as he passed. Two girls with bundles on theirshoulderscame walking out of the village--one wore a red handkerchiefabout herhead and one a blue. They were laughing and holding each otherby thehand. Then the sun pushed by a heavy fold of grey cloud andspreada warmyellow light over everything.
"Perhaps"thought the Child-Who-Was-Tired"if I walked far enough up thisroad Imight come to a little white onewith tall black trees on eitherside--alittle road--"
"Saladsalad!" cried the Frau's voice from the house.
Soon thechildren came home from schooldinner was eatenthe Man took theFrau'sshare of pudding as well as his ownand the three children seemedto smearthemselves all over with whatever they ate. Then moredish-washingand more cleaning and baby-minding. So the afternoon draggedcoldlythrough.
Old FrauGrathwohl came in with a fresh piece of pig's flesh for the Frauand theChild listened to them gossiping together.
"FrauManda went on her 'journey to Rome' last nightand brought back adaughter. How are you feeling?"
"Iwas sick twice this morning" said the Frau. "Myinsides are alltwisted upwith having children too quickly."
"Isee you've got a new help" commented old Mother Grathwohl.
"Ohdear Lord"--the Frau lowered her voice--"don't you knowher? She'sthefree-born one--daughter of the waitress at the railway station. Theyfound hermother trying to squeeze her head in the wash-hand jugand thechild'shalf silly."
"Ts--ts--ts!"whispered the "free-born" one to the baby.
As the daydrew in the Child-Who-Was-Tired did not know how to fight hersleepinessany longer. She was afraid to sit down or stand still. Asshesat atsupper the Man and the Frau seemed to swell to an immense size asshewatched themand then become smaller than dollswith little voicesthatseemed to come from outside the window. Looking at the babyitsuddenlyhad two headsand then no head. Even his crying made her feelworse. When she thought of the nearness of bedtime she shook all over withexcitedjoy. But as eight o'clock approached there was the sound ofwheelson theroadand presently in came a party of friends to spend the evening.
"Puton the coffee."
"Bringme the sugar tin."
"Carrythe chairs out of the bedroom."
Andfinallythe Frau sent her into the next room to keep the baby quiet.
There wasa little piece of candle burning in the enamel bracket. As shewalked upand down she saw her great big shadow on the wall like a grown-uppersonwith a grown-up baby. Whatever would it look like when shecarriedtwo babiesso!
"Ts--ts--ts!" Once upon a time she was walking along a little white roadwith oh!such great big black trees on either side."
"Hereyou!" called the Frau's voice"bring me my new jacket frombehindthedoor." And as she took it into the warm room one of thewomen said"Shelooks like an owl. Such children are seldom right in theirheads."
"Whydon't you keep that baby quiet?" said the Manwho had justdrunkenoughbeer to make him feel very brave and master of his house.
"Ifyou don't keep that baby quiet you'll know why later on."
They burstout laughing as she stumbled back into the bedroom.
"Idon't believe Holy Mary could keep him quiet" she murmured. "Did Jesuscry likethis when He was little? If I was not so tired perhaps I coulddoit; butthe baby just knows that I want to go to sleep. And there isgoingto beanother one."
She flungthe baby on the bedand stood looking at him with terror.
From thenext room there came the jingle of glasses and the warm sound oflaughter.
And shesuddenly had a beautiful marvellous idea.
Shelaughed for the first time that dayand clapped her hands.
"Ts--ts--ts!"she said"lie theresilly one; you WILL go to sleep.You'll notcry any more or wake up in the night. Funnylittleuglybaby."
He openedhis eyesand shrieked loudly at the sight of theChild-Who-Was-Tired. From the next room she heard the Frau call out toher.
"Onemoment--he is almost asleep" she cried.
And thengentlysmilingon tiptoeshe brought the pink bolster from theFrau's bedand covered the baby's face with itpressed with all her mightas hestruggled"like a duck with its head offwriggling"shethought.
She heaveda long sighthen fell back on to the floorand was walkingalong alittle white road with tall black trees on either sidea littleroad thatled to nowhereand where nobody walked at all--nobody at all.
"Doyou think we might ask her to come with us" said Fraulein Elsaretyingher pink sash ribbon before my mirror. "You knowalthoughshe issointellectualI cannot help feeling convinced that she has somesecretsorrow. And Lisa told me this morningas she was turning out my roomthat sheremains hours and hours by herselfwriting; in fact Lisa says sheis writinga book! I suppose that is why she never cares to mingle withusandhas so little time for her husband and the child."
"WellYOU ask her" said I. "I have never spoken to thelady."
Elsablushed faintly. "I have only spoken to her once"she confessed. "Itook her abunch of wild flowersto her roomand she came to the door ina whitegownwith her hair loose. Never shall I forget that moment. Shejust tookthe flowersand I heard her--because the door was not quiteproperlyshut--I heard heras I walked down the passagesaying 'Purityfragrancethe fragrance of purity and the purity of fragrance!' It waswonderful!"
At thatmoment Frau Kellermann knocked at the door.
"Areyou ready?" she saidcoming into the room and nodding to usverygenially. "The gentlemen are waiting on the stepsand I have asked theAdvancedLady to come with us."
"Nahow extraordinary!" cried Elsa. "But this moment thegnadige Frau andI weredebating whether--"
"YesI met her coming out of her room and she said she was charmed withthe idea. Like all of usshe has never been to Schlingen. She isdownstairsnowtalking to Herr Erchardt. I think we shall have adelightfulafternoon."
"IsFritzi waiting too?" asked Elsa.
"Ofcourse he isdear child--as impatient as a hungry man listening forthe dinnerbell. Run along!"
Elsa ranand Frau Kellermann smiled at me significantly. In the past sheand I hadseldom spoken to each otherowing to the fact that her "oneremainingjoy"--her charming little Karl--had never succeeded in kindlinginto flamethose sparks of maternity which are supposed to glow in greatnumbersupon the altar of every respectable female heart; butin view of apremeditatedjourney togetherwe became delightfully cordial.
"Forus" she said"there will be a double joy. We shallbe able to watchthehappiness of these two dear childrenElsa and Fritz. They onlyreceivedthe letters of blessing from their parents yesterday morning. Itis a verystrange thingbut whenever I am in the company of newly-engagedcouples Iblossom. Newly-engaged couplesmothers with first babiesandnormaldeathbeds have precisely the same effect on me. Shall we jointheothers?"
I waslonging to ask her why normal deathbeds should cause anyone to burstintoflowerand said"Yesdo let us."
We weregreeted by the little party of "cure guests" on the pensionstepswith thosecries of joy and excitement which herald so pleasantly themildestGerman excursion. Herr Erchardt and I had not met before thatdaysoinaccordance with strict pension customwe asked each other how longwe hadslept during the nighthad we dreamed agreeablywhat time we hadgot upwas the coffee fresh when we had appeared at breakfastand how hadwe passedthe morning. Having toiled up these stairs of almost nationalpolitenesswe landedtriumphant and smilingand paused to recover breath.
"Andnow" said Herr Erchardt"I have a pleasure in store foryou. TheFrauProfessor is going to be one of us for the afternoon. Yes"noddinggraciouslyto the Advanced Lady. "Allow me to introduce you to eachother."
We bowedvery formallyand looked each other over with that eye which isknown as"eagle" but is far more the property of the female thanthat mostunoffendingof birds. "I think you are English?" she said. I acknowledgedthe fact. "I am reading a great many English books just now--ratherI amstudyingthem."
"Nu"cried Herr Erchardt. "Fancy that! What a bondalready! I have madeup my mindto know Shakespeare in his mother tongue before I diebut thatyouFrauProfessorshould be already immersed in those wells of Englishthought!"
"Fromwhat I have read" she said"I do not think they are verydeepwells."
"No"he answered"so I have heard...But do not let us embitter ourexcursionfor our little English friend. We will speak of this anothertime."
"Nuare we ready?" cried Fritzwho stoodsupporting Elsa's elbowin hishandatthe foot of the steps. It was immediately discovered that Karlwas lost.
"Ka--rlKarl--chen!" we cried. No response.
"Buthe was here one moment ago" said Herr Langena tiredpaleyouthwho wasrecovering from a nervous breakdown due to much philosophy andlittlenourishment. "He was sitting herepicking out the worksof hiswatch witha hairpin!"
FrauKellermann rounded on him. "Do you mean to saymy dearHerr Langenyou didnot stop the child!"
"No"said Herr Langen; "I've tried stopping him before now."
"Dathat child has such energy; never is his brain at peace. If heis notdoing onethinghe is doing another!"
"Perhapshe has started on the dining-room clock now" suggested HerrLangenabominably hopeful.
TheAdvanced Lady suggested that we should go without him. "Inever takemy littledaughter for walks" she said. "I have accustomed herto sittingquietly inmy bedroom from the time I go out until I return!"
"Therehe is--there he is" piped Elsaand Karl was observedslitheringdown achestnut-treevery much the worse for twigs.
"I'vebeen listening to what you said about memumma" he confessedwhileFrauKellermann brushed him down. "It was not true about thewatch. I wasonlylooking at itand the little girl never stays in the bedroom. Shetold meherself she always goes down to the kitchenand--"
"Dathat's enough!" said Frau Kellermann.
We marcheden masse along the station road. It was a very warm afternoonandcontinuous parties of "cure guests"who were giving theirdigestions aquietairing in pension gardenscalled after usasked if we were goingfor awalkand cried "Herr Gott--happy journey" with immenseill-concealedrelishwhen we mentioned Schlingen.
"Butthat is eight kilometres" shouted one old man with a whitebeardwholeanedagainst a fencefanning himself with a yellow handkerchief.
"Sevenand a half" answered Herr Erchardt shortly.
"Eight"bellowed the sage.
"Sevenand a half!"
"Theman is mad" said Herr Erchardt.
"Wellplease let him be mad in peace" said Iputting my hands overmyears.
"Suchignorance must not be allowed to go uncontradicted" said heandturninghis back on ustoo exhausted to cry out any longerhe held upseven anda half fingers.
"Eight!"thundered the greybeardwith pristine freshness.
We feltvery soberedand did not recover until we reached a white signpostwhichentreated us to leave the road and walk through the field path--withouttrampling down more of the grass than was necessary. Beinginterpretedit meant "single file"which was distressing for Elsa andFritz. Karllike a happy childgambolled aheadand cut down as manyflowers aspossible with the stick of his mother's parasol--followed thethreeothers--then myself--and the lovers in the rear. And above theconversationof the advance party I had the privilege of hearing thesedeliciouswhispers.
Fritz: "Do you love me?" Elsa: "Nu--yes." Fritz passionately: "But howmuch?" To which Elsa never replied--except with "How much do YOU loveME?"
Fritzescaped that truly Christian trap by saying"I asked youfirst."
It grew soconfusing that I slipped in front of Frau Kellermann--and walkedin thepeaceful knowledge that she was blossoming and I was under noobligationto inform even my nearest and dearest as to the precise capacityof myaffections. "What right have they to ask each other suchquestionsthe dayafter letters of blessing have been received?" I reflected. "Whatright havethey even to question each other? Love which becomes engagedandmarried is a purely affirmative affair--they are usurping theprivilegesof their betters and wisers!"
The edgesof the field frilled over into an immense pine forest--verypleasantand cool it looked. Another signpost begged us to keep to thebroad pathfor Schlingen and deposit waste paper and fruit peelings in wirereceptaclesattached to the benches for the purpose. We sat down on thefirstbenchand Karl with great curiosity explored the wire receptacle.
"Ilove woods" said the Advanced Ladysmiling pitifully into theair."In awood my hair already seems to stir and remember something of itssavageorigin."
"Butspeaking literally" said Frau Kellermannafter an appreciativepause"there is really nothing better than the air of pine-trees forthescalp."
"OhFrau Kellermannplease don't break the spell" said Elsa.
TheAdvanced Lady looked at her very sympathetically. "Haveyoutoofound themagic heart of Nature?" she said.
That wasHerr Langen's cue. "Nature has no heart" said hevery bitterlyandreadilyas people do who are over-philosophised and underfed. "Shecreatesthat she may destroy. She eats that she may spew up and shespewsup thatshe may eat. That is why wewho are forced to eke out anexistenceat her trampling feetconsider the world madand realise thedeadlyvulgarity of production."
"Youngman" interrupted Herr Erchardt"you have never lived andyou haveneversuffered!"
"Ohexcuse me--how can you know?"
"Iknow because you have told meand there's an end of it. Come back tothis benchin ten years' time and repeat those words to me" said FrauKellermannwith an eye upon Fritzwho was engaged in counting Elsa'sfingerswith passionate fervour--"and bring with you your young wifeHerrLangenand watchperhapsyour little child playing with--" SheturnedtowardsKarlwho had rooted an old illustrated paper out of the receptacleand wasspelling over an advertisement for the enlargement of BeautifulBreasts.
Thesentence remained unfinished. We decided to move on. Aswe plungedmoredeeply into the wood our spirits rose--reaching a point where theyburst intosong--on the part of the three men--"O Weltwie bist duwunderbar!"--thelower part of which was piercingly sustained by HerrLangenwho attempted quite unsuccessfully to infuse satire into it inaccordancewith his--"world outlook". They strode ahead and leftus totrailafter them--hot and happy.
"Nowis the opportunity" said Frau Kellermann. "Dear FrauProfessordotell us alittle about your book."
"Achhow did you know I was writing one?" she cried playfully.
"Elsaherehad it from Lisa. And never before have I personallyknown awoman whowas writing a book. How do you manage to find enough to writedown?"
"Thatis never the trouble" said the Advanced Lady--she took Elsa'sarmand leanedon it gently. "The trouble is to know where to stop. My brainhas been ahive for yearsand about three months ago the pent-up watersburst overmy souland since then I am writing all day until late into thenightstill ever finding fresh inspirations and thoughts which beatimpatientwings about my heart."
"Isit a novel?" asked Elsa shyly.
"Ofcourse it is a novel" said I.
"Howcan you be so positive?" said Frau Kellermanneyeing meseverely.
"Becausenothing but a novel could produce an effect like that."
"Achdon't quarrel" said the Advanced Lady sweetly. "Yesit is a novel--upon theModern Woman. For this seems to me the woman's hour. Itismysteriousand almost propheticit is the symbol of the true advancedwoman: not one of those violent creatures who deny their sex and smothertheirfrail wings under...under--"
"TheEnglish tailor-made?" from Frau Kellermann.
"Iwas not going to put it like that. Ratherunder the lying garboffalsemasculinity!"
"Sucha subtle distinction!" I murmured.
"Whomthen" asked Fraulein Elsalooking adoringly at the AdvancedLady--"whomthen do you consider the true woman?"
"Sheis the incarnation of comprehending Love!"
"Butmy dear Frau Professor" protested Frau Kellermann"youmust rememberthat onehas so few opportunities for exhibiting Love within the familycirclenowadays. One's husband is at business all dayand naturallydesires tosleep when he returns home--one's children are out of the lapand in atthe university before one can lavish anything at all upon them!"
"ButLove is not a question of lavishing" said the Advanced Lady. "It isthe lampcarried in the bosom touching with serene rays all the heights anddepthsof--"
"DarkestAfrica" I murmured flippantly.
She didnot hear.
"Themistake we have made in the past--as a sex" said she"isin notrealisingthat our gifts of giving are for the whole world--we are the gladsacrificeof ourselves!"
"Oh!"cried Elsa rapturouslyand almost bursting into gifts as shebreathed--"howI know that! You know ever since Fritz and I have beenengagedIshare the desire to give to everybodyto share everything!"
"Howextremely dangerous" said I.
"Itis only the beauty of dangeror the danger of beauty" said theAdvancedLady--"and there you have the ideal of my book--that woman isnothingbut a gift."
I smiledat her very sweetly. "Do you know" I said"Itoowould liketo write abookon the advisability of caring for daughtersand takingthem forairings and keeping them out of kitchens!"
I thinkthe masculine element must have felt these angry vibrations: theyceasedfrom singingand together we climbed out of the woodto seeSchlingenbelow ustucked in a circle of hillsthe white houses shiningin thesunlight"for all the world like eggs in a bird's nest"as HerrErchardtdeclared. We descended upon Schlingen and demanded sour milkwithfreshcream and bread at the Inn of the Golden Staga most friendly placewithtables in a rose-garden where hens and chickens ran riot--evenfloppingupon the disused tables and pecking at the red checks on thecloths. We broke the bread into the bowlsadded the creamand stirred itround withflat wooden spoonsthe landlord and his wife standing by.
"Splendidweather!" said Herr Erchardtwaving his spoon at the landlordwhoshrugged his shoulders.
"What!you don't call it splendid!"
"Asyou please" said the landlordobviously scorning us.
"Sucha beautiful walk" said Fraulein Elsamaking a free gift of hermostcharmingsmile to the landlady.
"Inever walk" said the landlady; "when I go to Mindelbau myman drivesme--I'vemore important things to do with my legs than walk them throughthe dust!"
"Ilike these people" confessed Herr Langen to me. "Ilike them veryverymuch. I think I shall take a room here for the whole summer."
"Ohbecause they live close to the earthand therefore despise it."
He pushedaway his bowl of sour milk and lit a cigarette. We atesolidlyandseriouslyuntil those seven and a half kilometres to Mindelbaustretchedbefore us like an eternity. Even Karl's activity became so fullfed thathe lay on the ground and removed his leather waistbelt. Elsasuddenlyleaned over to Fritz and whisperedwho on hearing her to the endand askingher if she loved himgot up and made a little speech.
"We--wewish to celebrate our betrothal by--by--asking you all to driveback withus in the landlord's cart--if--it will hold us!"
"Ohwhat a beautifulnoble idea!" said Frau Kellermannheaving asigh ofreliefthat audibly burst two hooks.
"Itis my little gift" said Elsa to the Advanced Ladywho byvirtue ofthreeportions almost wept tears of gratitude.
Squeezedinto the peasant cart and driven by the landlordwho showed hiscontemptfor mother earth by spitting savagely every now and againwejoltedhome againand the nearer we came to Mindelbau the more we loved itand oneanother.
"Wemust have many excursions like this" said Herr Erchardt to me"forone surelygets to know a person in the simple surroundings of the openair--oneSHARES the same joys--one feels friendship. What is it yourShakespearesays? One momentI have it. The friends thou hastandtheiradoptiontried--grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel!"
"But"said Ifeeling very friendly towards him"the bother about mysoulis that itrefuses to grapple anybody at all--and I am sure that the deadweight ofa friend whose adoption it had tried would kill it immediately.Never yethas it shown the slightest sign of a hoop!"
He bumpedagainst my knees and excused himself and the cart.
"Mydear little ladyyou must not take the quotation literally.Naturallyone is not physically conscious of the hoops; but hoops thereare in thesoul of him or her who loves his fellow-men...Take thisafternoonfor instance. How did we start out? As strangers youmightalmostsayand yet--all of us--how have we come home?"
"In acart" said the only remaining joywho sat upon his mother'slap andfelt sick.
We skirtedthe field that we had passed throughgoing round by thecemetery. Herr Langen leaned over the edge of the seat and greeted thegraves. He was sitting next to the Advanced Lady--inside the shelter ofhershoulder. I heard her murmur: "You look like alittle boy with yourhairblowing about in the wind." Herr Langenslightly lessbitter--watchedthe last graves disappear. And I heard her murmur: "Whyare youso sad? Itoo am very sad sometimes--but--you look young enough for me todare tosay this--I--too--know of much joy!"
"Whatdo you know?" said he.
I leanedover and touched the Advanced Lady's hand. "Hasn't it beena niceafternoon?"I said questioningly. "But you knowthat theory of yoursaboutwomen and Love--it's as old as the hills--oholder!"
From theroad a sudden shout of triumph. Yesthere he was again--whitebeardsilk handkerchief and undaunted enthusiasm.
"Whatdid I say? Eight kilometres--it is!"
"Sevenand a half!" shrieked Herr Erchardt.
"Whythendo you return in carts? Eight kilometres it must be."
HerrErchardt made a cup of his hands and stood up in the jolting cartwhile FrauKellermann clung to his knees. "Seven and a half!"
"Ignorancemust not go uncontradicted!" I said to the Advanced Lady.
Thelandlady knocked at the door.
"Comein" said Viola.
"Thereis a letter for you" said the landlady"a specialletter"--sheheld thegreen envelope in a corner of her dingy apron.
"Thanks." Violakneeling on the floorpoking at the little dusty stovestretchedout her hand. "Any answer?"
"No;the messenger has gone."
"Ohall right!" She did not look the landlady in the face; shewasashamed ofnot having paid her rentand wondered grimlywithout any hopeif thewoman would begin to bluster again.
"Aboutthis money owing to me--" said the landlady.
"Ohthe Lord--off she goes!" thought Violaturning her back on thewomanand makinga grimace at the stove.
"It'ssettle--or it's go!" The landlady raised her voice; shebegan tobawl. "I'm a landladyI amand a respectable womanI'll have youknow.I'll haveno lice in my housesneaking their way into the furniture andeating upeverything. It's cash--or out you go before twelve o'clock to-morrow."
Viola feltrather than saw the woman's gesture. She shot out her arm in astupidhelpless wayas though a dirty pigeon had suddenly flown at herface. "Filthy old beast! Ugh! And the smell of her--likestale cheeseand dampwashing."
"Verywell!" she answered shortly; "it's cash down or I leaveto-morrow.Allright: don't shout."
It wasextraordinary--always before this woman came near her she trembledin hershoes--even the sound of those flat feet stumping up the stairs madeher feelsickbut once they were face to face she felt immensely calm andindifferentand could not understand why she even worried about moneynorwhy shesneaked out of the house on tiptoenot even daring to shut thedoor afterher in case the landlady should hear and shout somethingterriblenor why she spent nights pacing up and down her room--drawing upsharplybefore the mirror and saying to a tragic reflection: "Moneymoneymoney!" When she was alone her poverty was like a hugedream-mountainon which her feet were fast rooted--aching with the ache ofthe sizeof the thing--but if it came to definite actionwith no time forimaginingsher dream-mountain dwindled into a beastly "hold-your-nose"affairtobe passed as quickly as possiblewith anger and a strong senseofsuperiority.
Thelandlady bounced out of the roombanging the doorso that it shookandrattled as though it had listened to the conversation and fullysympathisedwith the old hag.
Squattingon her heelsViola opened the letter. It was from Casimir:
"Ishall be with you at three o'clock this afternoon--and must be offagainthisevening. All news when we meet. I hope you are happierthan I.--CASIMIR."
"Huh!how kind!" she sneered; "how condescending. Too goodof youreally!" She sprang to her feetcrumbling the letter in her hands. "Andhow areyou to know that I shall stick here awaiting your pleasure untilthreeo'clock this afternoon?" But she knew she would; her ragewas onlyhalfsincere. She longed to see Casimirfor she was confident thatthistime shewould make him understand the situation..."Foras it isit'sintolerable--intolerable!"she muttered.
It was teno'clock in the morning of a grey day curiously lighted by paleflashes ofsunshine. Searched by these flashes her room looked tumbled andgrimed. She pulled down the window-blinds--but they gave a persistentwhitishglare which was just as bad. The only thing of life in the roomwas a jarof hyacinths given her by the landlady's daughter: it stood onthe tableexuding a sickly perfume from its plump petals; there were evenrich budsunfoldingand the leaves shone like oil.
Viola wentover to the washstandpoured some water into the enamel basinandsponged her face and neck. She dipped her face into the wateropenedher eyesand shook her head from side to side--it was exhilarating. Shedid itthree times. "I suppose I could drown myself if I stayedunder longenough"she thought. "I wonder how long it takes to becomeunconscious?...Oftenread of women drowning in a bucket. I wonder if anyair entersby the ears--if the basin would have to be as deep as a bucket?"Sheexperimented--gripped the washstand with both hands and slowly sankherhead intothe waterwhen again there was a knock on the door. Not thelandladythis time--it must be Casimir. With her face and hair drippingwith herpetticoat bodice unbuttonedshe ran and opened it.
A strangeman stood against the lintel--seeing herhe opened his eyes verywide andsmiled delightfully. "Excuse me--does Fraulein Schaferlivehere?"
"No;never heard of her." His smile was so infectiousshewanted to smiletoo--andthe water had made her feel so fresh and rosy.
Thestrange man appeared overwhelmed with astonishment. "Shedoesn't?" hecried. "She is outyou mean!"
"Noshe's not living here" answered Viola.
"But--pardon--onemoment." He moved from the door lintelstandingsquarelyin front of her. He unbuttoned his greatcoat and drew a slip ofpaper fromthe breast pocketsmoothing it in his gloved fingers beforehanding itto her.
"Yesthat's the addressright enoughbut there must be a mistake in thenumber. So many lodging-houses in this streetyou knowand so big."
Drops ofwater fell from her hair on to the paper. She burst outlaughing."OhHOW dreadful I must look--one moment!" She ran back to thewashstandand caughtup a towel. The door was still open...After allthere wasnothingmore to be said. Why on earth had she asked him to wait amoment?She foldedthe towel round her shouldersand returned to the doorsuddenlygrave. "I'm sorry; I know no such name" in a sharpvoice.
Said thestrange man: "Sorrytoo. Have you been living herelong?"
"Er--yes--along time." She began to close the door slowly.
"Well--good-morningthanks so much. Hope I haven't been a bother."
She heardhim walk down the passage and then pause--lighting a cigarette.Yes--afaint scent of delicious cigarette smoke penetrated her room. Shesniffed atitsmiling again. Wellthat had been a fascinating interlude!He lookedso amazingly happy: his heavy clothes and big buttoned gloves;hisbeautifully brushed hair...and that smile..."Jolly" was theword--justa well-fedboy with the world for his playground. People like that did onegood--onefelt "made over" at the sight of them. SANE theywere--so saneandsolid. You could depend on them never having one mad impulsefrom theday theywere born until the day they died. And Life was in league withthem--jumpedthem on her knee--quite rightlytoo. At that moment shenoticedCasimir's lettercrumpled up on the floor--the smile faded.Staring atthe letter she began braiding her hair--a dull feeling of ragecreptthrough her--she seemed to be braiding it into her brainand bindingittightlyabove her head...Of course that had been the mistake allalong. What had? OhCasimir's frightful seriousness. If she hadbeenhappy whenthey first met she never would have looked at him--but they hadbeen liketwo patients in the same hospital ward--each finding comfort inthesickness of the other--sweet foundation for a love episode! Misfortunehadknocked their heads together: they had looked at each otherstunnedwith theconflict and sympathised..."I wish I could step outside thewholeaffair andjust judge it--then I'd find a way out. I certainly was in lovewithCasimir...Ohbe sincere for once." She flopped down onthe bed andhid herface in the pillow. "I was not in love. I wantedsomebody to lookafterme--and keep me until my work began to sell--and he kept bothers withother menaway. And what would have happened if he hadn't come along? Iwould havespent my wretched little pittanceand then--Yesthat was whatdecidedmethinking about that 'then.' He was the only solution. And Ibelievedin him then. I thought his work had only to be recognised onceand he'droll in wealth. I thought perhaps we might be poor for amonth--but hesaidif only he could have methe stimulus...Funnyif it wasn'tso damnedtragic! Exactly the contrary has happened--he hasn't had athingpublishedfor months--neither have I--but then I didn't expect to. Yesthe truthisI'm hard and bitterand I have neither faith nor love forunsuccessfulmen. I always end by despising them as I despise Casimir. Isupposeit's the savage pride of the female who likes to think the man towhom shehas given herself must be a very great chief indeed. But tostewin thisdisgusting house while Casimir scours the land in the hope offindingone editorial open door--it's humiliating. It's changed mywholenature. I wasn't born for poverty--I only flower among really jollypeopleand people who never are worried."
The figureof the strange man rose before her--would not be dismissed."Thatwas the man for meafter all is said and done--a man without a care--who'dgive me everything I want and with whom I'd always feel that senseof lifeand of being in touch with the world. I never wanted tofight--itwas thruston me. Reallythere's a fount of happiness in methat isdrying uplittle by littlein this hateful existence. I'll be dead ifthis goeson--and"--she stirred in the bed and flung out her arms--"Iwantpassionand loveand adventure--I yearn for them. Why should I stayhereandrot?--I am rotting!" she criedcomforting herself with thesound ofherbreaking voice. "But if I tell Casimir all this when hecomes thisafternoonand he says'Go'--as he certainly will--that's another thing Iloatheabout him--he's under my thumb--what should I do then--where shouldI go to?" There was nowhere. "I don't want to work--or carve out myownpath. I want ease and any amount of nursing in the lap of luxury. Thereis onlyone thing I'm fitted forand that is to be a great courtesan."But shedid not know how to go about it. She was frightened to go intothestreets--sheheard of such awful things happening to those women--men withdiseases--ormen who didn't pay--besidesthe idea of a strange man everynight--nothat was out of the question. "If I'd the clothes I wouldgo toa reallygood hotel and find some wealthy man...like the strange man thismorning. He would be ideal. Ohif I only had his address--I am sure Iwouldfascinate him. I'd keep him laughing all day--I'd make him givemeunlimitedmoney..." At the thought she grew warm and soft. Shebegan todream of awonderful houseand of presses full of clothes and of perfumes.She sawherself stepping into carriages--looking at the strange man with amysteriousvoluptuous glance--she practised the glancelying on the bed--and neveranother worryjust drugged with happiness. That was the lifefor her. Wellthe thing to do was to let Casimir go on his wild-goosechase thateveningand while he was away--What! Also--please to remember--therewas the rent to be paid before twelve next morningand she hadn'tthe moneyfor a square meal. At the thought of food she felt a sharptwinge inher stomacha sensation as though there were a hand in herstomachsqueezing it dry. She was terribly hungry--all Casimir'sfault--and thatman had lived on the fat of the land ever since he was born. Helooked asthough he could order a magnificent dinner. Ohwhy hadn't sheplayed hercards better?--he'd been sent by Providence--and she'd snubbedhim. "If I had that time over againI'd be safe by now." And instead oftheordinary man who had spoken with her at the door her mind created abrilliantlaughing imagewho would treat her like a queen..."There's onlyone thingI could not stand--that he should be coarse or vulgar. Wellhewasn't--hewas obviously a man of the worldand the way he apologised...Ihaveenough faith in my own power and beauty to know I could make a mantreat mejust as I wanted to be treated."...It floated into her dreams--that sweetscent of cigarette smoke. And then she remembered that she hadheardnobody go down the stone stairs. Was it possible that thestrangeman wasstill there?...The thought was too absurd--Life didn't play trickslikethat--and yet--she was quite conscious of his nearness. Veryquietlyshe gotupunhooked from the back of the door a long white gownbuttonediton--smiling slyly. She did not know what was going to happen. She onlythought: "Ohwhat fun!" and that they were playing a deliciousgame--thisstrangeman and she. Very gently she turned the door-handlescrewingupher faceand biting her lip as the lock snapped back. Of coursetherehewas--leaningagainst the banister rail. He wheeled round as she slippedinto thepassage.
"Da"she mutteredfolding her gown tightly around her"I must godownstairsand fetch some wood. Brr! the cold!"
"Thereisn't any wood" volunteered the strange man. She gave alittle cryofastonishmentand then tossed her head.
"Youagain" she said scornfullyconscious the while of his merryeyeandthe freshstrong smell of his healthy body.
"Thelandlady shouted out there was no wood left. I just saw her goout tobuy some."
"Story--story!"she longed to cry. He came quite close to herstood overher andwhispered:
"Aren'tyou going to ask me to finish my cigarette in your room?"
Shenodded. "You may if you want to!"
In thatmoment together in the passage a miracle had happened. Her roomwas quitechanged--it was full of sweet light and the scent of hyacinthflowers. Even the furniture appeared different--exciting. Quick as aflash sheremembered childish parties when they had played charadesandone sidehad left the room and come in again to act a word--just what shewas doingnow. The strange man went over to the stove and sat down in herarm-chair. She did not want him to talk or come near her--it was enough tosee him inthe roomso secure and happy. How hungry she had been for thenearnessof someone like that--who knew nothing at all about her--and madenodemands--but just lived. Viola ran over to the table and puther armsround thejar of hyacinths.
"Beautiful! Beautiful!" she cried--burying her head in the flowers--andsniffinggreedily at the scent. Over the leaves she looked at the manandlaughed.
"Youare a funny little thing" said he lazily.
"Why? Because I love flowers?"
"I'dfar rather you loved other things" said the strange manslowly. Shebroke offa little pink petal and smiled at it.
"Letme send you some flowers" said the strange man. "I'llsend you aroomful ifyou'd like them."
His voicefrightened her slightly. "Oh nothanks--this one is quiteenough forme."
"Noit isn't"--in a teasing voice.
"Whata stupid remark!" thought Violaand looking at him again he didnotseem quiteso jolly. She noticed that his eyes were set too closelytogether--andthey were too small. Horrible thoughtthat he should provestupid.
"Whatdo you do all day?" she asked hastily.
"Whyshould I do anything?"
"Ohdon't imagine for one moment that I condemn such wisdom--only itsounds toogood to be true!"
"What'sthat?"--he craned forward. "What sounds too good tobe true?"Yes--therewas no denying it--he looked silly.
"Isuppose the searching after Fraulein Schafer doesn't occupy all yourdays."
"Ohno"--he smiled broadly--"that's very good! By Jove!no. I drive agoodbit--are you keen on horses?"
Shenodded. "Love them."
"Youmust come driving with me--I've got a fine pair of greys. Willyou?"
"PrettyI'd look perched behind greys in my one and only hat" thoughtshe.Aloud: "I'd love to." Her easy acceptance pleased him.
"Howabout to-morrow?" he suggested. "Suppose you havelunch with me to-morrow andI take you driving."
Afterall--this was just a game. "YesI'm not busy to-morrow"she said.
A littlepause--then the strange man patted his leg. "Why don't youcomeand sitdown?" he said.
Shepretended not to see and swung on to the table. "OhI'mall righthere."
"Noyou're not"--again the teasing voice. "Come and siton my knee."
"Ohno" said Viola very heartilysuddenly busy with her hair.
"Idon't want to."
She shookher head from side to side. "I wouldn't dream of such athing."
At that hegot up and came over to her. "Funny little puss cat!" He putup onehand to touch her hair.
"Don't"she said--and slipped off the table. "I--I think it's timeyouwentnow." She was quite frightened now--thinking only: "This man must begot rid ofas quickly as possible."
"Ohbut you don't want me to go?"
"YesI do--I'm very busy."
"Busy. What does the pussy cat do all day?"
"Lotsand lots of things!" She wanted to push him out of theroom and slamthe dooron him--idiot--fool--cruel disappointment.
"What'sshe frowning for?" he asked. "Is she worried aboutanything?"Suddenlyserious: "I say--you knoware you in any financialdifficulty?Do youwant money? I'll give it to you if you like!"
"Money! Steady on the brake--don't lose your head!"--so she spoke toherself.
"I'llgive you two hundred marks if you'll kiss me."
"Ohboo! What a condition! And I don't want to kiss you--Idon't likekissing. Please go!"
"Yes--youdo!--yesyou do." He caught hold of her arms above theelbows.Shestruggledand was quite amazed to realise how angry she felt.
"Letme go--immediately!" she cried--and he slipped one arm round herbodyand drewher towards him--like a bar of iron across her back--that arm.
"Leaveme alone! I tell you. Don't be mean! I didn't want thisto happenwhen youcame into my room. How dare you?"
"Wellkiss me and I'll go!"
It was tooidiotic--dodging that stupidsmiling face.
"Iwon't kiss you!--you brute!--I won't!" Somehow she slippedout of hisarms andran to the wall--stood back against it--breathing quickly.
"Getout!" she stammered. "Go on nowclear out!"
At thatmomentwhen he was not touching hershe quite enjoyed herself.Shethrilled at her own angry voice. "To think I should talkto a man likethat!" An angry flush spread over his face--his lips curled backshowinghisteeth--just like a dogthought Viola. He made a rush at herand heldheragainst the wall--pressed upon her with all the weight of his body.This timeshe could not get free.
"Iwon't kiss you. I won't. Stop doing that Ugh! you're likea dog--youought tofind lovers round lamp-posts--you beast--you fiend!"
He did notanswer. With an expression of the most absurd determination hepressedever more heavily upon her. He did not even look at her--butrapped outin a sharp voice: "Keep quiet--keep quiet."
"Gar--r! Why are men so strong?" She began to cry. "Goaway--I don'twant youyou dirty creature. I want to murder you. Ohmy God! ifI hada knife."
"Don'tbe silly--come and be good!" He dragged her towards thebed.
"Doyou suppose I'm a light woman?" she snarledand swooping overshefastenedher teeth in his glove.
"Ach!don't do that--you are hurting me!"
She didnot let gobut her heart said"Thank the Lord I thought ofthis."
"Stopthis minute--you vixen--you bitch." He threw her away fromhim. Shesaw withjoy that his eyes were full of tears. "You've really hurtme" hesaid in achoking voice.
"Ofcourse I have. I meant to. That's nothing to what I'll doif youtouch meagain."
Thestrange man picked up his hat. "No thanks" he saidgrimly. "But I'llnot forgetthis--I'll go to your landlady."
"Pooh!" She shrugged her shoulders and laughed. "I'll tell her youforcedyour wayin here and tried to assault me. Who will she believe?--withyourbittenhand. You go and find your Schafers."
Asensation of gloriousintoxicating happiness flooded Viola. She rolledher eyesat him. "If you don't go away this moment I'll bite youagain"she saidand the absurd words started her laughing. Even when the doorwasclosedhearing him descending the stairsshe laughedand dancedabout theroom.
What amorning! Ohchalk it up. That was her first fightandshe'd won--she'dconquered that beast--all by herself. Her hands were stilltrembling. She pulled up the sleeve of her gown--great red marks on herarms. "My ribs will be blue. I'll be blue all over" shereflected. "Ifonly thatbeloved Casimir could have seen us." And the feeling ofrage anddisgustagainst Casimir had totally disappeared. How could the poordarlinghelp not having any money? It was her fault as much as hisandhejustlike herwas apart from the worldfighting itjust as she haddone. If only three o'clock would come. She saw herself runningtowardshim andputting her arms round his neck. "My blessed one! Ofcourse weare boundto win. Do you love me still? OhI have been horriblelately."
"Maxyou silly devilyou'll break your neck if you go careering down theslide thatway. Drop itand come to the Club House with me and get somecoffee."
"I'vehad enough for to-day. I'm damp all through. Theregiveus acigaretteVictorold man. When are you going home?"
"Notfor another hour. It's fine this afternoonand I'm gettingintodecentshape. Look outget off the track; here comes Fraulein Winkel.Damnedelegant the way she manages her sleigh!"
"I'mcold all through. That's the worst of this place--themists--it's adampcold. HereFormanlook after this sleigh--and stick itsomewhere sothat I canget it without looking through a hundred and fifty others to-morrowmorning."
They satdown at a small round table near the stove and ordered coffee.Victorsprawled in his chairpatting his little brown dog Bobo andlookinghalf laughinglyat Max.
"What'sthe mattermy dear? Isn't the world being nice and pretty?"
"Iwant my coffeeand I want to put my feet into my pocket--they'relikestones...Nothingto eatthanks--the cake is like underdone india-rubberhere."
Fuchs andWistuba came and sat at their table. Max half turned his backandstretched his feet out to the oven. The three other men allbegantalking atonce--of the weather--of the record slide--of the fine conditionof theWald See for skating.
SuddenlyFuchs looked at Maxraised his eyebrows and nodded across toVictorwho shook his head.
"Babydoesn't feel well" he saidfeeding the brown dog with brokenlumpsof sugar"and nobody's to disturb him--I'm nurse."
"That'sthe first time I've ever known him off colour" said Wistuba."I'vealways imagined he had the better part of this world that could notbe takenaway from him. I think he says his prayers to the dear Lord forhavingspared him being taken home in seven basketsful to-night. It'safool'sgame to risk your all that way and leave the nation desolate."
"Dryup" said Max. "You ought to be wheeled about on thesnow in aperambulator."
"Ohno offenceI hope. Don't get nasty. How's your wifeVictor?"
"She'snot at all well. She hurt her head coming down the slide withMaxonSunday. I told her to stay at home all day."
"I'msorry. Are you other fellows going back to the town or stoppingonhere?"
Fuchs andVictor said they were stopping--Max did not answerbut satmotionlesswhile the men paid for their coffee and moved away. Victor cameback amoment and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Ifyou're going right backmy dearI wish you'd look Elsa up and tellher Iwon't be in till late. And feed with us to-night at Limpoldwillyou? And take some hot grog when you get in."
"Thanksold fellowI'm all right. Going back now."
He rosestretched himselfbuttoned on his heavy coat and lighted anothercigarette.
From thedoor Victor watched him plunging through the heavy snow--headbent--handsthrust in his pockets--he almost appeared to be running throughthe heavysnow towards the town.
...Someonecame stamping up the stairs--paused at the door of her sitting-roomandknocked.
"Isthat youVictor?" she called.
"Noit is I... can I come in?"
"Ofcourse. Whywhat a Santa Claus! Hang your coat on thelanding andshakeyourself over the banisters. Had a good time?"
The roomwas full of light and warmth. Elsain a white velvet tea-gownlay curledup on the sofa--a book of fashions on her lapa box of creamsbesideher.
Thecurtains were not yet drawn before the windows and a blue light shonethroughand the white boughs of the trees sprayed across.
A woman'sroom--full of flowers and photographs and silk pillows--the floorsmotheredin rugs--an immense tiger-skin under the piano--just the headprotruding--sleepilysavage.
"Itwas good enough" said Max. "Victor can't be in tilllate. He told meto come upand tell you."
He startedwalking up and down--tore off his gloves and flung them on thetable.
"Don'tdo thatMax" said Elsa"you get on my nerves. AndI've got aheadacheto-day; I'm feverish and quite flushed...Don't I look flushed?"
He pausedby the window and glanced at her a moment over his shoulder.
"No"he said; "I didn't notice it."
"Ohyou haven't looked at me properlyand I've got a new tea-gown ontoo." She pulled her skirts together and patted a little place on thecouch.
"Comealong and sit by me and tell me why you're being naughty."
Butstanding by the windowhe suddenly flung his arm across his eyes.
"Oh"he said"I can't. I'm done--I'm spent--I'm smashed."
Silence inthe room. The fashion-book fell to the floor with a quickrustle ofleaves. Elsa sat forwardher hands clasped in her lap; astrangelight shone in her eyesa red colour stained her mouth.
Then shespoke very quietly.
"Comeover here and explain yourself. I don't know what on earth youaretalkingabout."
"Youdo know--you know far better than I. You've simply played withVictorin mypresence that I may feel worse. You've tormented me--you've ledmeon--offeringme everything and nothing at all. It's been a spider-and-flybusinessfrom first to last--and I've never for one moment been ignorant ofthat--andI've never for one moment been able to withstand it."
He turnedround deliberately.
"Doyou suppose that when you asked me to pin your flowers into youreveninggown--when you let me come into your bedroom when Victor was outwhile youdid your hair--when you pretended to be a baby and let me feedyou withgrapes--when you have run to me and searched in all my pockets foracigarette--knowing perfectly well where they were kept--going througheverypocket just the same--I knowing too--I keeping up the farce--do yousupposethat now you have finally lighted your bonfire you are going tofind it apeaceful and pleasant thing--you are going to prevent the wholehouse fromburning?"
Shesuddenly turned white and drew in her breath sharply.
"Don'ttalk to me like that. You have no right to talk to me likethat. Iam anotherman's wife."
"Hum"he sneeredthrowing back his head"that's rather late in thegameand that'sbeen your trump card all along. You only love Victor on thecat-and-creamprinciple--you a poor little starved kitten that he's giveneverythingtothat he's carried in his breastnever dreaming that thoselittlepink claws could tear out a man's heart."
Shestirredlooking at him with almost fear in her eyes.
"Afterall"--unsteadily--"this is my room; I'll have to ask you togo."
But hestumbled towards herknelt down by the couchburying his head inher lapclasping his arms round her waist.
"AndI LOVE you--I love you; the humiliation of it--I adore you. Don't--don't--justa minute let me stay here--just a moment in a whole life--Elsa!Elsa!"
She leantback and pressed her head into the pillows.
Then hismuffled voice: "I feel like a savage. I want yourwhole body. Iwant tocarry you away to a cave and love you until I kill you--you can'tunderstandhow a man feels. I kill myself when I see you--I'm sick of myownstrength that turns in upon itselfand diesand rises new born likeaPhoenixout of the ashes of that horrible death. Love me just thisoncetell me alieSAY that you do--you are always lying."
Insteadshe pushed him away--frightened.
"Getup" she said; "suppose the servant came in with the tea?"
"Ohye gods!" He stumbled to his feet and stood staring downat her.
"You'rerotten to the core and so am I. But you're heathenishlybeautiful."
The womanwent over to the piano--stood there--striking one note--her browsdrawntogether. Then she shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
"I'llmake a confession. Every word you have said is true. Ican't helpit. I can't help seeking admiration any more than a cat can help going topeople tobe stroked. It's my nature. I'm born out of my time. And yetyou knowI'm not a COMMON woman. I like men to adore me--to flatter me--even tomake love to me--but I would never give myself to any man. Iwouldnever leta man kiss me... even."
"It'simmeasurably worse--you've no legitimate excuse. Whyeven aprostitutehas a greater sense of generosity!"
"Iknow" she said"I know perfectly well--but I can't helpthe way I'mbuilt...Areyou going?"
He put onhis gloves.
"Well"he said"what's going to happen to us now?"
Again sheshrugged her shoulders.
"Ihaven't the slightest idea. I never have--just let thingsoccur."
..."Allalone?" cried Victor. "Has Max been here?"
"Heonly stayed a momentand wouldn't even have tea. I sent himhome tochange hisclothes...He was frightfully boring."
"Youpoor darlingyour hair's coming down. I'll fix itstand stillamoment...soyou were bored?"
"Um--m--frightfully...Ohyou've run a hairpin right into your wife's head--younaughty boy!"
She flungher arms round his neck and looked up at himhalf laughinglikeabeautifulloving child.
"God! What a woman you are" said the man. "You make me soinfernallyproud--dearestthat I...I tell you!"