IN A GERMAN PENSION
By Katherine Mansfield
1. Germans at Meat. 2. The Baron. 3. The Sister of the Baroness. 4. Frau Fischer. 5. Frau Brechenmacher attends a Wedding. 6. The Modern Soul. 7. At Lehmann's. 8. The Luft Bad. 9. A Birthday. 10. The Child-Who-Was-Tired. 11. The Advanced Lady. 12. The Swing of the Pendulum. 13. A Blaze.
1. GERMANS AT MEAT.
Bread soup was placed upon the table. "Ah," said the Herr Rat, leaning upon the table as he peered into the tureen, "that is what I need. My 'magen' has not been in order for several days. Bread soup, and just the right consistency. I am a good cook myself"—he turned to me.
"How interesting," I said, attempting to infuse just the right amount of enthusiasm into my voice.
"Oh yes—when one is not married it is necessary. As for me, I have had all I wanted from women without marriage." He tucked his napkin into his collar and blew upon his soup as he spoke. "Now at nine o'clock I make myself an English breakfast, but not much. Four slices of bread, two eggs, two slices of cold ham, one plate of soup, two cups of tea—that is nothing to you."
He asserted the fact so vehemently that I had not the courage to refute it.
All eyes were suddenly turned upon me. I felt I was bearing the burden of the nation's preposterous breakfast—I who drank a cup of coffee while buttoning my blouse in the morning.
"Nothing at all," cried Herr Hoffmann from Berlin. "Ach, when I was in England in the morning I used to eat."
He turned up his eyes and his moustache, wiping the soup drippings from his coat and waistcoat.
"Do they really eat so much?" asked Fraulein Stiegelauer. "Soup and baker's bread and pig's flesh, and tea and coffee and stewed fruit, and honey and eggs, and cold fish and kidneys, and hot fish and liver? All the ladies eat, too, especially the ladies."
"Certainly. I myself have noticed it, when I was living in a hotel in Leicester Square," cried the Herr Rat. "It was a good hotel, but they could not make tea—now—"
"Ah, that's one thing I CAN do," said I, laughing brightly. "I can make very good tea. The great secret is to warm the teapot."
"Warm the teapot," interrupted the Herr Rat, pushing away his soup plate. "What do you warm the teapot for? Ha! ha! that's very good! One does not eat the teapot, I suppose?"
He fixed his cold blue eyes upon me with an expression which suggested a thousand premeditated invasions.
"So that is the great secret of your English tea? All you do is to warm the teapot."
I wanted to say that was only the preliminary canter, but could not translate it, and so was silent.
The servant brought in veal, with sauerkraut and potatoes.
"I eat sauerkraut with great pleasure," said the Traveller from North Germany, "but now I have eaten so much of it that I cannot retain it. I am immediately forced to—"
"A beautiful day," I cried, turning to Fraulein Stiegelauer. "Did you get up early?"
"At five o'clock I walked for ten minutes in the wet grass. Again in bed. At half-past five I fell asleep, and woke at seven, when I made an 'overbody' washing! Again in bed. At eight o'clock I had a cold-water poultice, and at half past eight I drank a cup of mint tea. At nine I drank some malt coffee, and began my 'cure.' Pass me the sauerkraut, please. You do not eat it?"
"No, thank you. I still find it a little strong."
"Is it true," asked the Widow, picking her teeth with a hairpin as she spoke, "that you are a vegetarian?"
"Why, yes; I have not eaten meat for three years."
"Im—possible! Have you any family?"
"There now, you see, that's what you're coming to! Who ever heard of having children upon vegetables? It is not possible. But you never have large families in England now; I suppose you are too busy with your suffragetting. Now I have had nine children, and they are all alive, thank God. Fine, healthy babies—though after the first one was born I had to—"
"How WONDERFUL!" I cried.
"Wonderful," said the Widow contemptuously, replacing the hairpin in the knob which was balanced on the top of her head. "Not at all! A friend of mine had four at the same time. Her husband was so pleased he gave a supper-party and had them placed on the table. Of course she was very proud."
"Germany," boomed the Traveller, biting round a potato which he had speared with his knife, "is the home of the Family."
Followed an appreciative silence.
The dishes were changed for beef, red currants and spinach. They wiped their forks upon black bread and started again.
"How long are you remaining here?" asked the Herr Rat.
"I do not know exactly. I must be back in London in September."
"Of course you will visit Munchen?"
"I am afraid I shall not have time. You see, it is important not to break into my 'cure.'"
"But you MUST go to Munchen. You have not seen Germany if you have not been to Munchen. All the Exhibitions, all the Art and Soul life of Germany are in Munchen. There is the Wagner Festival in August, and Mozart and a Japanese collection of pictures—and there is the beer! You do not know what good beer is until you have been to Munchen. Why, I see fine ladies every afternoon, but fine ladies, I tell you, drinking glasses so high." He measured a good washstand pitcher in height, and I smiled.
"If I drink a great deal of Munchen beer I sweat so," said Herr Hoffmann. "When I am here, in the fields or before my baths, I sweat, but I enjoy it; but in the town it is not at all the same thing."
Prompted by the thought, he wiped his neck and face with his dinner napkin and carefully cleaned his ears.
A glass dish of stewed apricots was placed upon the table.
"Ah, fruit!" said Fraulein Stiegelauer, "that is so necessary to health. The doctor told me this morning that the more fruit I could eat the better."
She very obviously followed the advice.
Said the Traveller: "I suppose you are frightened of an invasion, too, eh? Oh, that's good. I've been reading all about your English play in a newspaper. Did you see it?"
"Yes." I sat upright. "I assure you we are not afraid."
"Well, then, you ought to be," said the Herr Rat. "You have got no army at all—a few little boys with their veins full of nicotine poisoning."
"Don't be afraid," Herr Hoffmann said. "We don't want England. If we did we would have had her long ago. We really do not want you."
He waved his spoon airily, looking across at me as though I were a little child whom he would keep or dismiss as he pleased.
"We certainly do not want Germany," I said.
"This morning I took a half bath. Then this afternoon I must take a knee bath and an arm bath," volunteered the Herr Rat; "then I do my exercises for an hour, and my work is over. A glass of wine and a couple of rolls with some sardines—"
They were handed cherry cake with whipped cream.
"What is your husband's favourite meat?" asked the Widow.
"I really do not know," I answered.
"You really do not know? How long have you been married?"
"But you cannot be in earnest! You would not have kept house as his wife for a week without knowing that fact."
"I really never asked him; he is not at all particular about his food."
A pause. They all looked at me, shaking their heads, their mouths full of cherry stones.
"No wonder there is a repetition in England of that dreadful state of things in Paris," said the Widow, folding her dinner napkin. "How can a woman expect to keep her husband if she does not know his favourite food after three years?"
I closed the door after me.
2. THE BARON.
"Who is he?" I said. "And why does he sit always alone, with his back to us, too?"
"Ah!" whispered the Frau Oberregierungsrat, "he is a BARON."
She looked at me very solemnly, and yet with the slightest possible contempt—a "fancy-not-recognising-that-at-the-first-glance" expression.
"But, poor soul, he cannot help it," I said. "Surely that unfortunate fact ought not to debar him from the pleasures of intellectual intercourse."
If it had not been for her fork I think she would have crossed herself.
"Surely you cannot understand. He is one of the First Barons."
More than a little unnerved, she turned and spoke to the Frau Doktor on her left.
"My omelette is empty—EMPTY," she protested, "and this is the third I have tried!"
I looked at the First of the Barons. He was eating salad—taking a whole lettuce leaf on his fork and absorbing it slowly, rabbit-wise—a fascinating process to watch.
Small and slight, with scanty black hair and beard and yellow-toned complexion, he invariably wore black serge clothes, a rough linen shirt, black sandals, and the largest black-rimmed spectacles that I had ever seen.
The Herr Oberlehrer, who sat opposite me, smiled benignantly.
"It must be very interesting for you, gnadige Frau, to be able to watch.... of course this is a VERY FINE HOUSE. There was a lady from the Spanish Court here in the summer; she had a liver. We often spoke together."
I looked gratified and humble.
"Now, in England, in your 'boarding 'ouse', one does not find the First Class, as in Germany."
"No, indeed," I replied, still hypnotised by the Baron, who looked like a little yellow silkworm.
"The Baron comes every year," went on the Herr Oberlehrer, "for his nerves. He has never spoken to any of the guests—YET!" A smile crossed his face. I seemed to see his visions of some splendid upheaval of that silence—a dazzling exchange of courtesies in a dim future, a splendid sacrifice of a newspaper to this Exalted One, a "danke schon" to be handed down to future generations.
At that moment the postman, looking like a German army officer, came in with the mail. He threw my letters into my milk pudding, and then turned to a waitress and whispered. She retired hastily. The manager of the pension came in with a little tray. A picture post card was deposited on it, and reverently bowing his head, the manager of the pension carried it to the Baron.
Myself, I felt disappointed that there was not a salute of twenty-five guns.
At the end of the meal we were served with coffee. I noticed the Baron took three lumps of sugar, putting two in his cup and wrapping up the third in a corner of his pocket-handkerchief. He was always the first to enter the dining-room and the last to leave; and in a vacant chair beside him he placed a little black leather bag.
In the afternoon, leaning from my window, I saw him pass down the street, walking tremulously and carrying the bag. Each time he passed a lamp-post he shrank a little, as though expecting it to strike him, or maybe the sense of plebeian contamination...
I wondered where he was going, and why he carried the bag. Never had I seen him at the Casino or the Bath Establishment. He looked forlorn, his feet slipped in his sandals. I found myself pitying the Baron.
That evening a party of us were gathered in the salon discussing the day's "kur" with feverish animation. The Frau Oberregierungsrat sat by me knitting a shawl for her youngest of nine daughters, who was in that very interesting, frail condition... "But it is bound to be quite satisfactory," she said to me. "The dear married a banker—the desire of her life."
There must have been eight or ten of us gathered together, we who were married exchanging confidences as to the underclothing and peculiar characteristics of our husbands, the unmarried discussing the over-clothing and peculiar fascinations of Possible Ones.
"I knit them myself," I heard the Frau Lehrer cry, "of thick grey wool. He wears one a month, with two soft collars."
"And then," whispered Fraulein Lisa, "he said to me, 'Indeed you please me. I shall, perhaps, write to your mother.'"
Small wonder that we were a little violently excited, a little expostulatory.
Suddenly the door opened and admitted the Baron.
Followed a complete and deathlike silence.
He came in slowly, hesitated, took up a toothpick from a dish on the top of the piano, and went out again.
When the door was closed we raised a triumphant cry! It was the first time he had ever been known to enter the salon. Who could tell what the Future held?
Days lengthened into weeks. Still we were together, and still the solitary little figure, head bowed as though under the weight of the spectacles, haunted me. He entered with the black bag, he retired with the black bag—and that was all.
At last the manager of the pension told us the Baron was leaving the next day.
"Oh," I thought, "surely he cannot drift into obscurity—be lost without one word! Surely he will honour the Frau Oberregierungsrat of the Frau Feldleutnantswitwe ONCE before he goes."
In the evening of that day it rained heavily. I went to the post office, and as I stood on the steps, umbrellaless, hesitating before plunging into the slushy road, a little, hesitating voice seemed to come from under my elbow.
I looked down. It was the First of the Barons with the black bag and an umbrella. Was I mad? Was I sane? He was asking me to share the latter. But I was exceedingly nice, a trifle diffident, appropriately reverential. Together we walked through the mud and slush.
Now, there is something peculiarly intimate in sharing an umbrella.
It is apt to put one on the same footing as brushing a man's coat for him—a little daring, naive.
I longed to know why he sat alone, why he carried the bag, what he did all day. But he himself volunteered some information.
"I fear," he said, "that my luggage will be damp. I invariably carry it with me in this bag—one requires so little—for servants are untrustworthy."
"A wise idea," I answered. And then: "Why have you denied us the pleasure—"
"I sit alone that I may eat more," said the Baron, peering into the dusk; "my stomach requires a great deal of food. I order double portions, and eat them in peace."
Which sounded finely Baronial.
"And what do you do all day?"
"I imbibe nourishment in my room," he replied, in a voice that closed the conversation and almost repented of the umbrella.
When we arrived at the pension there was very nearly an open riot.
I ran half way up the stairs, and thanked the Baron audibly from the landing.
He distinctly replied: "Not at all!"
It was very friendly of the Herr Oberlehrer to have sent me a bouquet that evening, and the Frau Oberregierungsrat asked me for my pattern of a baby's bonnet!
Next day the Baron was gone.
Sic transit gloria German mundi.
3. THE SISTER OF THE BARONESS.
"There are two new guests arriving this afternoon," said the manager of the pension, placing a chair for me at the breakfast table. "I have only received the letter acquainting me with the fact this morning. The Baroness von Gall is sending her little daughter—the poor child is dumb—to make the 'cure.' She is to stay with us a month, and then the Baroness herself is coming."
"Baroness von Gall," cried the Frau Doktor, coming into the room and positively scenting the name. "Coming here? There was a picture of her only last week in 'Sport and Salon.' She is a friend of the court: I have heard that the Kaiserin says 'du' to her. But this is delightful! I shall take my doctor's advice and spend an extra six weeks here. There is nothing like young society."
"But the child is dumb," ventured the manager apologetically.
"Bah! What does that matter? Afflicted children have such pretty ways."
Each guest who came into the breakfast-room was bombarded with the wonderful news. "The Baroness von Gall is sending her little daughter here; the Baroness herself is coming in a month's time." Coffee and rolls took on the nature of an orgy. We positively scintillated. Anecdotes of the High Born were poured out, sweetened and sipped: we gorged on scandals of High Birth generously buttered.
"They are to have the room next to yours," said the manager, addressing me. "I was wondering if you would permit me to take down the portrait of the Kaiserin Elizabeth from above your bed to hang over their sofa."
"Yes, indeed, something homelike"—the Frau Oberregierungsrat patted my hand—"and of no possible significance to you."
I felt a little crushed. Not at the prospect of losing that vision of diamonds and blue velvet bust, but at the tone—placing me outside the pale—branding me as a foreigner.
We dissipated the day in valid speculations. Decided it was too warm to walk in the afternoon, so lay down on our beds, mustering in great force for afternoon coffee. And a carriage drew up at the door. A tall young girl got out, leading a child by the hand. They entered the hall, were greeted and shown to their room. Ten minutes later she came down with the child to sign the visitors' book. She wore a black, closely fitting dress, touched at throat and wrists with white frilling. Her brown hair, braided, was tied with a black bow—unusually pale, with a small mole on her left cheek.
"I am the Baroness von Gall's sister," she said, trying the pen on a piece of blotting-paper, and smiling at us deprecatingly. Even for the most jaded of us life holds its thrilling moments. Two Baronesses in two months! The manager immediately left the room to find a new nib.
To my plebeian eyes that afflicted child was singularly unattractive. She had the air of having been perpetually washed with a blue bag, and hair like grey wool—dressed, too, in a pinafore so stiffly starched that she could only peer at us over the frill of it—a social barrier of a pinafore—and perhaps it was too much to expect a noble aunt to attend to the menial consideration of her niece's ears. But a dumb niece with unwashed ears struck me as a most depressing object.
They were given places at the head of the table. For a moment we all looked at one another with an eena-deena-dina-do expression. Then the Frau Oberregierungsrat:
"I hope you are not tired after your journey."
"No," said the sister of the Baroness, smiling into her cup.
"I hope the dear child is not tired," said the Frau Doktor.
"Not at all."
"I expect, I hope you will sleep well to-night," the Herr Oberlehrer said reverently.
The poet from Munich never took his eyes off the pair. He allowed his tie to absorb most of his coffee while he gazed at them exceedingly soulfully.
Unyoking Pegasus, thought I. Death spasms of his Odes to Solitude! There were possibilities in that young woman for an inspiration, not to mention a dedication, and from that moment his suffering temperament took up its bed and walked.
They retired after the meal, leaving us to discuss them at leisure.
"There is a likeness," mused the Frau Doktor. "Quite. What a manner she has. Such reserve, such a tender way with the child."
"Pity she has the child to attend to," exclaimed the student from Bonn. He had hitherto relied upon three scars and a ribbon to produce an effect, but the sister of a Baroness demanded more than these.
Absorbing days followed. Had she been one whit less beautifully born we could not have endured the continual conversation about her, the songs in her praise, the detailed account of her movements. But she graciously suffered our worship and we were more than content.
The poet she took into her confidence. He carried her books when we went walking, he jumped the afflicted one on his knee—poetic licence, this—and one morning brought his notebook into the salon and read to us.
"The sister of the Baroness has assured me she is going into a convent," he said. (That made the student from Bonn sit up.) "I have written these few lines last night from my window in the sweet night air—"
"Oh, your DELICATE chest," commented the Frau Doktor.
He fixed a stony eye on her, and she blushed.
"I have written these lines:
"'Ah, will you to a convent fly, So young, so fresh, so fair? Spring like a doe upon the fields And find your beauty there.'"
Nine verses equally lovely commanded her to equally violent action. I am certain that had she followed his advice not even the remainder of her life in a convent would have given her time to recover her breath.
"I have presented her with a copy," he said. "And to-day we are going to look for wild flowers in the wood."
The student from Bonn got up and left the room. I begged the poet to repeat the verses once more. At the end of the sixth verse I saw from the window the sister of the Baroness and the scarred youth disappearing through the front gate, which enabled me to thank the poet so charmingly that he offered to write me out a copy.
But we were living at too high pressure in those days. Swinging from our humble pension to the high walls of palaces, how could we help but fall? Late one afternoon the Frau Doktor came upon me in the writing-room and took me to her bosom.
"She has been telling me all about her life," whispered the Frau Doktor. "She came to my bedroom and offered to massage my arm. You know, I am the greatest martyr to rheumatism. And, fancy now, she has already had six proposals of marriage. Such beautiful offers that I assure you I wept—and every one of noble birth. My dear, the most beautiful was in the wood. Not that I do not think a proposal should take place in a drawing-room—it is more fitting to have four walls—but this was a private wood. He said, the young officer, she was like a young tree whose branches had never been touched by the ruthless hand of man. Such delicacy!" She sighed and turned up her eyes.
"Of course it is difficult for you English to understand when you are always exposing your legs on cricket-fields, and breeding dogs in your back gardens. The pity of it! Youth should be like a wild rose. For myself I do not understand how your women ever get married at all."
She shook her head so violently that I shook mine too, and a gloom settled round my heart. It seemed we were really in a very bad way. Did the spirit of romance spread her rose wings only over aristocratic Germany?
I went to my room, bound a pink scarf about my hair, and took a volume of Morike's lyrics into the garden. A great bush of purple lilac grew behind the summer-house. There I sat down, finding a sad significance in the delicate suggestion of half mourning. I began to write a poem myself.
"They sway and languish dreamily, And we, close pressed, are kissing there."
It ended! "Close pressed" did not sound at all fascinating. Savoured of wardrobes. Did my wild rose then already trail in the dust? I chewed a leaf and hugged my knees. Then—magic moment—I heard voices from the summer-house, the sister of the Baroness and the student from Bonn.
Second-hand was better than nothing; I pricked up my ears.
"What small hands you have," said the student from Bonn. "They are like white lilies lying in the pool of your black dress." This certainly sounded the real thing. Her high-born reply was what interested me. Sympathetic murmur only.
"May I hold one?"
I heard two sighs—presumed they held—he had rifled those dark waters of a noble blossom.
"Look at my great fingers beside yours."
"But they are beautifully kept," said the sister of the Baroness shyly.
The minx! Was love then a question of manicure?
"How I should adore to kiss you," murmured the student. "But you know I am suffering from severe nasal catarrh, and I dare not risk giving it to you. Sixteen times last night did I count myself sneezing. And three different handkerchiefs."
I threw Morike into the lilac bush, and went back to the house. A great automobile snorted at the front door. In the salon great commotion. The Baroness was paying a surprise visit to her little daughter. Clad in a yellow mackintosh she stood in the middle of the room questioning the manager. And every guest the pension contained was grouped about her, even the Frau Doktor, presumably examining a timetable, as near to the august skirts as possible.
"But where is my maid?" asked the Baroness.
"There was no maid," replied the manager, "save for your gracious sister and daughter."
"Sister!" she cried sharply. "Fool, I have no sister. My child travelled with the daughter of my dressmaker."
4. FRAU FISCHER.
Frau Fischer was the fortunate possessor of a candle factory somewhere on the banks of the Eger, and once a year she ceased from her labours to make a "cure" in Dorschausen, arriving with a dress-basket neatly covered in a black tarpaulin and a hand-bag. The latter contained amongst her handkerchiefs, eau de Cologne, toothpicks, and a certain woollen muffler very comforting to the "magen," samples of her skill in candle-making, to be offered up as tokens of thanksgiving when her holiday time was over.
Four of the clock one July afternoon she appeared at the Pension Muller. I was sitting in the arbour and watched her bustling up the path followed by the red-bearded porter with her dress-basket in his arms and a sunflower between his teeth. The widow and her five innocent daughters stood tastefully grouped upon the steps in appropriate attitudes of welcome; and the greetings were so long and loud that I felt a sympathetic glow.
"What a journey!" cried the Frau Fischer. "And nothing to eat in the train—nothing solid. I assure you the sides of my stomach are flapping together. But I must not spoil my appetite for dinner—just a cup of coffee in my room. Bertha," turning to the youngest of the five, "how changed! What a bust! Frau Hartmann, I congratulate you."
Once again the Widow seized Frau Fischer's hands. "Kathi, too, a splendid woman; but a little pale. Perhaps the young man from Nurnberg is here again this year. How you keep them all I don't know. Each year I come expecting to find you with an empty nest. It's surprising."
Frau Hartmann, in an ashamed, apologetic voice: "We are such a happy family since my dear man died."
"But these marriages—one must have courage; and after all, give them time, they all make the happy family bigger—thank God for that... Are there many people here just now?"
"Every room engaged."
Followed a detailed description in the hall, murmured on the stairs, continued in six parts as they entered the large room (windows opening upon the garden) which Frau Fischer occupied each successive year. I was reading the "Miracles of Lourdes," which a Catholic priest—fixing a gloomy eye upon my soul—had begged me to digest; but its wonders were completely routed by Frau Fischer's arrival. Not even the white roses upon the feet of the Virgin could flourish in that atmosphere.
"... It was a simple shepherd-child who pastured her flocks upon the barren fields..."
Voices from the room above: "The washstand has, of course, been scrubbed over with soda."
"... Poverty-stricken, her limbs with tattered rags half covered..."
"Every stick of the furniture has been sunning in the garden for three days. And the carpet we made ourselves out of old clothes. There is a piece of that beautiful flannel petticoat you left us last summer."
"... Deaf and dumb was the child; in fact, the population considered her half idiot..."
"Yes, that is a new picture of the Kaiser. We have moved the thorn-crowned one of Jesus Christ out into the passage. It was not cheerful to sleep with. Dear Frau Fischer, won't you take your coffee out in the garden?"
"That is a very nice idea. But first I must remove my corsets and my boots. Ah, what a relief to wear sandals again. I am needing the 'cure' very badly this year. My nerves! I am a mass of them. During the entire journey I sat with my handkerchief over my head, even while the guard collected the tickets. Exhausted!"
She came into the arbour wearing a black and white spotted dressing-gown, and a calico cap peaked with patent leather, followed by Kathi, carrying the little blue jugs of malt coffee. We were formally introduced. Frau Fischer sat down, produced a perfectly clean pocket handkerchief and polished her cup and saucer, then lifted the lid of the coffee-pot and peered in at the contents mournfully.
"Malt coffee," she said. "Ah, for the first few days I wonder how I can put up with it. Naturally, absent from home one must expect much discomfort and strange food. But as I used to say to my dear husband: with a clean sheet and a good cup of coffee I can find my happiness anywhere. But now, with nerves like mine, no sacrifice is too terrible for me to make. What complaint are you suffering from? You look exceedingly healthy!"
I smiled and shrugged my shoulders.
"Ah, that is so strange about you English. You do not seem to enjoy discussing the functions of the body. As well speak of a railway train and refuse to mention the engine. How can we hope to understand anybody, knowing nothing of their stomachs? In my husband's most severe illness—the poultices—"
She dipped a piece of sugar in her coffee and watched it dissolve.
"Yet a young friend of mine who travelled to England for the funeral of his brother told me that women wore bodices in public restaurants no waiter could help looking into as he handed the soup."
"But only German waiters," I said. "English ones look over the top of your head."
"There," she cried, "now you see your dependence on Germany. Not even an efficient waiter can you have by yourselves."
"But I prefer them to look over your head."
"And that proves that you must be ashamed of your bodice."
I looked out over the garden full of wall-flowers and standard rose-trees growing stiffly like German bouquets, feeling I did not care one way or the other. I rather wanted to ask her if the young friend had gone to England in the capacity of waiter to attend the funeral baked meats, but decided it was not worth it. The weather was too hot to be malicious, and who could be uncharitable, victimised by the flapping sensations which Frau Fischer was enduring until six-thirty? As a gift from heaven for my forbearance, down the path towards us came the Herr Rat, angelically clad in a white silk suit. He and Frau Fischer were old friends. She drew the folds of her dressing-gown together, and made room for him on the little green bench.
"How cool you are looking," she said; "and if I may make the remark—what a beautiful suit!"
"Surely I wore it last summer when you were here? I brought the silk from China—smuggled it through the Russian customs by swathing it round my body. And such a quantity: two dress lengths for my sister-in-law, three suits for myself, a cloak for the housekeeper of my flat in Munich. How I perspired! Every inch of it had to be washed afterwards."
"Surely you have had more adventures than any man in Germany. When I think of the time that you spent in Turkey with a drunken guide who was bitten by a mad dog and fell over a precipice into a field of attar of roses, I lament that you have not written a book."
"Time—time. I am getting a few notes together. And now that you are here we shall renew our quiet little talks after supper. Yes? It is necessary and pleasant for a man to find relaxation in the company of women occasionally."
"Indeed I realise that. Even here your life is too strenuous—you are so sought after—so admired. It was just the same with my dear husband. He was a tall, beautiful man, and sometimes in the evening he would come down into the kitchen and say: 'Wife, I would like to be stupid for two minutes.' Nothing rested him so much then as for me to stroke his head."
The Herr Rat's bald pate glistening in the sunlight seemed symbolical of the sad absence of a wife.
I began to wonder as to the nature of these quiet little after-supper talks. How could one play Delilah to so shorn a Samson?
"Herr Hoffmann from Berlin arrived yesterday," said the Herr Rat.
"That young man I refuse to converse with. He told me last year that he had stayed in France in an hotel where they did not have serviettes; what a place it must have been! In Austria even the cabmen have serviettes. Also I have heard that he discussed 'free love' with Bertha as she was sweeping his room. I am not accustomed to such company. I had suspected him for a long time."
"Young blood," answered the Herr Rat genially. "I have had several disputes with him—you have heard them—is it not so?" turning to me.
"A great many," I said, smiling.
"Doubtless you too consider me behind the times. I make no secret of my age; I am sixty-nine; but you must have surely observed how impossible it was for him to speak at all when I raised my voice."
I replied with the utmost conviction, and, catching Frau Fischer's eye, suddenly realised I had better go back to the house and write some letters.
It was dark and cool in my room. A chestnut tree pushed green boughs against the window. I looked down at the horsehair sofa so openly flouting the idea of curling up as immoral, pulled the red pillow on to the floor and lay down. And barely had I got comfortable when the door opened and Frau Fischer entered.
"The Herr Rat had a bathing appointment," she said, shutting the door after her. "May I come in? Pray do not move. You look like a little Persian kitten. Now, tell me something really interesting about your life. When I meet new people I squeeze them dry like a sponge. To begin with—you are married."
I admit the fact.
"Then, dear child, where is your husband?"
I said he was a sea-captain on a long and perilous voyage.
"What a position to leave you in—so young and so unprotected."
She sat down on the sofa and shook her finger at me playfully.
"Admit, now, that you keep your journeys secret from him. For what man would think of allowing a woman with such a wealth of hair to go wandering in foreign countries? Now, supposing that you lost your purse at midnight in a snowbound train in North Russia?"
"But I haven't the slightest intention—" I began.
"I don't say that you have. But when you said good-bye to your dear man I am positive that you had no intention of coming here. My dear, I am a woman of experience, and I know the world. While he is away you have a fever in your blood. Your sad heart flies for comfort to these foreign lands. At home you cannot bear the sight of that empty bed—-it is like widowhood. Since the death of my dear husband I have never known an hour's peace."
"I like empty beds," I protested sleepily, thumping the pillow.
"That cannot be true because it is not natural. Every wife ought to feel that her place is by her husband's side—sleeping or waking. It is plain to see that the strongest tie of all does not yet bind you. Wait until a little pair of hands stretches across the water—wait until he comes into harbour and sees you with the child at your breast."
I sat up stiffly.
"But I consider child-bearing the most ignominious of all professions," I said.
For a moment there was silence. Then Frau Fischer reached down and caught my hand.
"So young and yet to suffer so cruelly," she murmured. "There is nothing that sours a woman so terribly as to be left alone without a man, especially if she is married, for then it is impossible for her to accept the attention of others—unless she is unfortunately a widow. Of course, I know that sea-captains are subject to terrible temptations, and they are as inflammable as tenor singers—that is why you must present a bright and energetic appearance, and try and make him proud of you when his ship reaches port."
This husband that I had created for the benefit of Frau Fischer became in her hands so substantial a figure that I could no longer see myself sitting on a rock with seaweed in my hair, awaiting that phantom ship for which all women love to suppose they hunger. Rather I saw myself pushing a perambulator up the gangway, and counting up the missing buttons on my husband's uniform jacket.
"Handfuls of babies, that is what you are really in need of," mused Frau Fischer. "Then, as the father of a family he cannot leave you. Think of his delight and excitement when he saw you!"
The plan seemed to me something of a risk. To appear suddenly with handfuls of strange babies is not generally calculated to raise enthusiasm in the heart of the average British husband. I decided to wreck my virgin conception and send him down somewhere off Cape Horn.
Then the dinner-gong sounded.
"Come up to my room afterwards," said Frau Fischer. "There is still much that I must ask you."
She squeezed my hand, but I did not squeeze back.
5. FRAU BRECHENMACHER ATTENDS A WEDDING.
Getting ready was a terrible business. After supper Frau Brechenmacher packed four of the five babies to bed, allowing Rosa to stay with her and help to polish the buttons of Herr Brechenmacher's uniform. Then she ran over his best shirt with a hot iron, polished his boots, and put a stitch or two into his black satin necktie.
"Rosa," she said, "fetch my dress and hang it in front of the stove to get the creases out. Now, mind, you must look after the children and not sit up later than half-past eight, and not touch the lamp—you know what will happen if you do."
"Yes, Mamma," said Rosa, who was nine and felt old enough to manage a thousand lamps. "But let me stay up—the 'Bub' may wake and want some milk."
"Half-past eight!" said the Frau. "I'll make the father tell you too."
Rosa drew down the corners of her mouth.
"Here comes the father. You go into the bedroom and fetch my blue silk handkerchief. You can wear my black shawl while I'm out—there now!"
Rosa dragged it off her mother's shoulders and wound it carefully round her own, tying the two ends in a knot at the back. After all, she reflected, if she had to go to bed at half past eight she would keep the shawl on. Which resolution comforted her absolutely.
"Now, then, where are my clothes?" cried Herr Brechenmacher, hanging his empty letter-bag behind the door and stamping the snow out of his boots. "Nothing ready, of course, and everybody at the wedding by this time. I heard the music as I passed. What are you doing? You're not dressed. You can't go like that."
"Here they are—all ready for you on the table, and some warm water in the tin basin. Dip your head in. Rosa, give your father the towel. Everything ready except the trousers. I haven't had time to shorten them. You must tuck the ends into your boots until we get there."
"Nu," said the Herr, "there isn't room to turn. I want the light. You go and dress in the passage."
Dressing in the dark was nothing to Frau Brechenmacher. She hooked her skirt and bodice, fastened her handkerchief round her neck with a beautiful brooch that had four medals to the Virgin dangling from it, and then drew on her cloak and hood.
"Here, come and fasten this buckle," called Herr Brechenmacher. He stood in the kitchen puffing himself out, the buttons on his blue uniform shining with an enthusiasm which nothing but official buttons could possibly possess. "How do I look?"
"Wonderful," replied the little Frau, straining at the waist buckle and giving him a little pull here, a little tug there. "Rosa, come and look at your father."
Herr Brechenmacher strode up and down the kitchen, was helped on with his coat, then waited while the Frau lighted the lantern.
"Now, then—finished at last! Come along."
"The lamp, Rosa," warned the Frau, slamming the front door behind them.
Snow had not fallen all day; the frozen ground was slippery as an icepond. She had not been out of the house for weeks past, and the day had so flurried her that she felt muddled and stupid—felt that Rosa had pushed her out of the house and her man was running away from her.
"Wait, wait!" she cried.
"No. I'll get my feet damp—you hurry."
It was easier when they came into the village. There were fences to cling to, and leading from the railway station to the Gasthaus a little path of cinders had been strewn for the benefit of the wedding guests.
The Gasthaus was very festive. Lights shone out from every window, wreaths of fir twigs hung from the ledges. Branches decorated the front doors, which swung open, and in the hall the landlord voiced his superiority by bullying the waitresses, who ran about continually with glasses of beer, trays of cups and saucers, and bottles of wine.
"Up the stairs—up the stairs!" boomed the landlord. "Leave your coats on the landing."
Herr Brechenmacher, completely overawed by this grand manner, so far forgot his rights as a husband as to beg his wife's pardon for jostling her against the banisters in his efforts to get ahead of everybody else.
Herr Brechenmacher's colleagues greeted him with acclamation as he entered the door of the Festsaal, and the Frau straightened her brooch and folded her hands, assuming the air of dignity becoming to the wife of a postman and the mother of five children. Beautiful indeed was the Festsaal. Three long tables were grouped at one end, the remainder of the floor space cleared for dancing. Oil lamps, hanging from the ceiling, shed a warm, bright light on the walls decorated with paper flowers and garlands; shed a warmer, brighter light on the red faces of the guests in their best clothes.
At the head of the centre table sat the bride and bridegroom, she in a white dress trimmed with stripes and bows of coloured ribbon, giving her the appearance of an iced cake all ready to be cut and served in neat little pieces to the bridegroom beside her, who wore a suit of white clothes much too large for him and a white silk tie that rose halfway up his collar. Grouped about them, with a fine regard for dignity and precedence, sat their parents and relations; and perched on a stool at the bride's right hand a little girl in a crumpled muslin dress with a wreath of forget-me-nots hanging over one ear. Everybody was laughing and talking, shaking hands, clinking glasses, stamping on the floor—a stench of beer and perspiration filled the air.
Frau Brechenmacher, following her man down the room after greeting the bridal party, knew that she was going to enjoy herself. She seemed to fill out and become rosy and warm as she sniffed that familiar festive smell. Somebody pulled at her skirt, and, looking down, she saw Frau Rupp, the butcher's wife, who pulled out an empty chair and begged her to sit beside her.
"Fritz will get you some beer," she said. "My dear, your skirt is open at the back. We could not help laughing as you walked up the room with the white tape of your petticoat showing!"
"But how frightful!" said Frau Brechenmacher, collapsing into her chair and biting her lip.
"Na, it's over now," said Frau Rupp, stretching her fat hands over the table and regarding her three mourning rings with intense enjoyment; "but one must be careful, especially at a wedding."
"And such a wedding as this," cried Frau Ledermann, who sat on the other side of Frau Brechenmacher. "Fancy Theresa bringing that child with her. It's her own child, you know, my dear, and it's going to live with them. That's what I call a sin against the Church for a free-born child to attend its own mother's wedding."
The three women sat and stared at the bride, who remained very still, with a little vacant smile on her lips, only her eyes shifting uneasily from side to side.
"Beer they've given it, too," whispered Frau Rupp, "and white wine and an ice. It never did have a stomach; she ought to have left it at home."
Frau Brechenmacher turned round and looked towards the bride's mother. She never took her eyes off her daughter, but wrinkled her brown forehead like an old monkey, and nodded now and again very solemnly. Her hands shook as she raised her beer mug, and when she had drunk she spat on the floor and savagely wiped her mouth with her sleeve. Then the music started and she followed Theresa with her eyes, looking suspiciously at each man who danced with her.
"Cheer up, old woman," shouted her husband, digging her in the ribs; "this isn't Theresa's funeral." He winked at the guests, who broke into loud laughter.
"I AM cheerful," mumbled the old woman, and beat upon the table with her fist, keeping time to the music, proving she was not out of the festivities.
"She can't forget how wild Theresa has been," said Frau Ledermann. "Who could—with the child there? I heard that last Sunday evening Theresa had hysterics and said that she would not marry this man. They had to get the priest to her."
"Where is the other one?" asked Frau Brechenmacher. "Why didn't he marry her?"
The woman shrugged her shoulders.
"Gone—disappeared. He was a traveller, and only stayed at their house two nights. He was selling shirt buttons—I bought some myself, and they were beautiful shirt buttons—but what a pig of a fellow! I can't think what he saw in such a plain girl—but you never know. Her mother says she's been like fire ever since she was sixteen!"
Frau Brechenmacher looked down at her beer and blew a little hole in the froth.
"That's not how a wedding should be," she said; "it's not religion to love two men."
"Nice time she'll have with this one," Frau Rupp exclaimed. "He was lodging with me last summer and I had to get rid of him. He never changed his clothes once in two months, and when I spoke to him of the smell in his room he told me he was sure it floated up from the shop. Ah, every wife has her cross. Isn't that true, my dear?"
Frau Brechenmacher saw her husband among his colleagues at the next table. He was drinking far too much, she knew—gesticulating wildly, the saliva spluttering out of his mouth as he talked.
"Yes," she assented, "that's true. Girls have a lot to learn."
Wedged in between these two fat old women, the Frau had no hope of being asked to dance. She watched the couples going round and round; she forgot her five babies and her man and felt almost like a girl again. The music sounded sad and sweet. Her roughened hands clasped and unclasped themselves in the folds of her skirt. While the music went on she was afraid to look anybody in the face, and she smiled with a little nervous tremor round the mouth.
"But, my God," Frau Rupp cried, "they've given that child of Theresa's a piece of sausage. It's to keep her quiet. There's going to be a presentation now—your man has to speak."
Frau Brechenmacher sat up stiffly. The music ceased, and the dancers took their places again at the tables.
Herr Brechenmacher alone remained standing—he held in his hands a big silver coffee-pot. Everybody laughed at his speech, except the Frau; everybody roared at his grimaces, and at the way he carried the coffee-pot to the bridal pair, as if it were a baby he was holding.
She lifted the lid, peeped in, then shut it down with a little scream and sat biting her lips. The bridegroom wrenched the pot away from her and drew forth a baby's bottle and two little cradles holding china dolls. As he dandled these treasures before Theresa the hot room seemed to heave and sway with laughter.
Frau Brechenmacher did not think it funny. She stared round at the laughing faces, and suddenly they all seemed strange to her. She wanted to go home and never come out again. She imagined that all these people were laughing at her, more people than there were in the room even—all laughing at her because they were so much stronger than she was.
... They walked home in silence. Herr Brechenmacher strode ahead, she stumbled after him. White and forsaken lay the road from the railway station to their house—a cold rush of wind blew her hood from her face, and suddenly she remembered how they had come home together the first night. Now they had five babies and twice as much money; BUT—
"Na, what is it all for?" she muttered, and not until she had reached home, and prepared a little supper of meat and bread for her man did she stop asking herself that silly question.
Herr Brechenmacher broke the bread into his plate, smeared it round with his fork and chewed greedily.
"Good?" she asked, leaning her arms on the table and pillowing her breast against them.
He took a piece of the crumb, wiped it round his plate edge, and held it up to her mouth. She shook her head.
"Not hungry," she said.
"But it is one of the best pieces, and full of the fat."
He cleared the plate; then pulled off his boots and flung them into a corner.
"Not much of a wedding," he said, stretching out his feet and wriggling his toes in the worsted socks.
"N—no," she replied, taking up the discarded boots and placing them on the oven to dry.
Herr Brechenmacher yawned and stretched himself, and then looked up at her, grinning.
"Remember the night that we came home? You were an innocent one, you were."
"Get along! Such a time ago I forget." Well she remembered.
"Such a clout on the ear as you gave me... But I soon taught you."
"Oh, don't start talking. You've too much beer. Come to bed."
He tilted back in his chair, chuckling with laughter.
"That's not what you said to me that night. God, the trouble you gave me!"
But the little Frau seized the candle and went into the next room. The children were all soundly sleeping. She stripped the mattress off the baby's bed to see if he was still dry, then began unfastening her blouse and skirt.
"Always the same," she said—"all over the world the same; but, God in heaven—but STUPID."
Then even the memory of the wedding faded quite. She lay down on the bed and put her arm across her face like a child who expected to be hurt as Herr Brechenmacher lurched in.
6. THE MODERN SOUL.
"Good-evening," said the Herr Professor, squeezing my hand; "wonderful weather! I have just returned from a party in the wood. I have been making music for them on my trombone. You know, these pine-trees provide most suitable accompaniment for a trombone! They are sighing delicacy against sustained strength, as I remarked once in a lecture on wind instruments in Frankfort. May I be permitted to sit beside you on this bench, gnadige Frau?"
He sat down, tugging at a white-paper package in the tail pocket of his coat.
"Cherries," he said, nodding and smiling. "There is nothing like cherries for producing free saliva after trombone playing, especially after Grieg's 'Ich Liebe Dich.' Those sustained blasts on 'liebe' make my throat as dry as a railway tunnel. Have some?" He shook the bag at me.
"I prefer watching you eat them."
"Ah, ha!" He crossed his legs, sticking the cherry bag between his knees, to leave both hands free. "Psychologically I understood your refusal. It is your innate feminine delicacy in preferring etherealised sensations... Or perhaps you do not care to eat the worms. All cherries contain worms. Once I made a very interesting experiment with a colleague of mine at the university. We bit into four pounds of the best cherries and did not find one specimen without a worm. But what would you? As I remarked to him afterwards—dear friend, it amounts to this: if one wishes to satisfy the desires of nature one must be strong enough to ignore the facts of nature... The conversation is not out of your depth? I have so seldom the time or opportunity to open my heart to a woman that I am apt to forget."
I looked at him brightly.
"See what a fat one!" cried the Herr Professor. "That is almost a mouthful in itself; it is beautiful enough to hang from a watch-chain." He chewed it up and spat the stone an incredible distance—over the garden path into the flower bed. He was proud of the feat. I saw it. "The quantity of fruit I have eaten on this bench," he sighed; "apricots, peaches and cherries. One day that garden bed will become an orchard grove, and I shall allow you to pick as much as you please, without paying me anything."
I was grateful, without showing undue excitement.
"Which reminds me"—he hit the side of his nose with one finger—"the manager of the pension handed me my weekly bill after dinner this evening. It is almost impossible to credit. I do not expect you to believe me—he has charged me extra for a miserable little glass of milk I drink in bed at night to prevent insomnia. Naturally, I did not pay. But the tragedy of the story is this: I cannot expect the milk to produce somnolence any longer; my peaceful attitude of mind towards it is completely destroyed. I know I shall throw myself into a fever in attempting to plumb this want of generosity in so wealthy a man as the manager of a pension. Think of me to-night."—he ground the empty bag under his heel—"think that the worst is happening to me as your head drops asleep on your pillow."
Two ladies came on the front steps of the pension and stood, arm in arm, looking over the garden. The one, old and scraggy, dressed almost entirely in black bead trimming and a satin reticule; the other, young and thin, in a white gown, her yellow hair tastefully garnished with mauve sweet peas.
The Professor drew in his feet and sat up sharply, pulling down his waistcoat.
"The Godowskas," he murmured. "Do you know them? A mother and daughter from Vienna. The mother has an internal complaint and the daughter is an actress. Fraulein Sonia is a very modern soul. I think you would find her most sympathetic. She is forced to be in attendance on her mother just now. But what a temperament! I have once described her in her autograph album as a tigress with a flower in the hair. Will you excuse me? Perhaps I can persuade them to be introduced to you."
I said, "I am going up to my room." But the Professor rose and shook a playful finger at me. "Na," he said, "we are friends, and, therefore, I shall speak quite frankly to you. I think they would consider it a little 'marked' if you immediately retired to the house at their approach, after sitting here alone with me in the twilight. You know this world. Yes, you know it as I do."
I shrugged my shoulders, remarking with one eye that while the Professor had been talking the Godowskas had trailed across the lawn towards us. They confronted the Herr Professor as he stood up.
"Good-evening," quavered Frau Godowska. "Wonderful weather! It has given me quite a touch of hay fever!" Fraulein Godowska said nothing. She swooped over a rose growing in the embryo orchard then stretched out her hand with a magnificent gesture to the Herr Professor. He presented me.
"This is my little English friend of whom I have spoken. She is the stranger in our midst. We have been eating cherries together."
"How delightful," sighed Frau Godowska. "My daughter and I have often observed you through the bedroom window. Haven't we, Sonia?"
Sonia absorbed my outward and visible form with an inward and spiritual glance, then repeated the magnificent gesture for my benefit. The four of us sat on the bench, with that faint air of excitement of passengers established in a railway carriage on the qui vive for the train whistle. Frau Godowska sneezed. "I wonder if it is hay fever," she remarked, worrying the satin reticule for her handkerchief, "or would it be the dew. Sonia, dear, is the dew falling?"
Fraulein Sonia raised her face to the sky, and half closed her eyes. "No, mamma, my face is quite warm. Oh, look, Herr Professor, there are swallows in flight; they are like a little flock of Japanese thoughts—nicht wahr?"
"Where?" cried the Herr Professor. "Oh yes, I see, by the kitchen chimney. But why do you say 'Japanese'? Could you not compare them with equal veracity to a little flock of German thoughts in flight?" He rounded on me. "Have you swallows in England?"
"I believe there are some at certain seasons. But doubtless they have not the same symbolical value for the English. In Germany—"
"I have never been to England," interrupted Fraulein Sonia, "but I have many English acquaintances. They are so cold!" She shivered.
"Fish-blooded," snapped Frau Godowska. "Without soul, without heart, without grace. But you cannot equal their dress materials. I spent a week in Brighton twenty years ago, and the travelling cape I bought there is not yet worn out—the one you wrap the hot-water bottle in, Sonia. My lamented husband, your father, Sonia, knew a great deal about England. But the more he knew about it the oftener he remarked to me, 'England is merely an island of beef flesh swimming in a warm gulf sea of gravy.' Such a brilliant way of putting things. Do you remember, Sonia?"
"I forget nothing, mamma," answered Sonia.
Said the Herr Professor: "That is the proof of your calling, gnadiges Fraulein. Now I wonder—and this is a very interesting speculation—is memory a blessing or—excuse the word—a curse?"
Frau Godowska looked into the distance, then the corners of her mouth dropped and her skin puckered. She began to shed tears.
"Ach Gott! Gracious lady, what have I said?" exclaimed the Herr Professor.
Sonia took her mother's hand. "Do you know," she said, "to-night it is stewed carrots and nut tart for supper. Suppose we go in and take our places," her sidelong, tragic stare accusing the Professor and me the while.
I followed them across the lawn and up the steps. Frau Godowska was murmuring, "Such a wonderful, beloved man"; with her disengaged hand Fraulein Sonia was arranging the sweet pea "garniture."
"A concert for the benefit of afflicted Catholic infants will take place in the salon at eight-thirty P.M. Artists: Fraulein Sonia Godowska, from Vienna; Herr Professor Windberg and his trombone; Frau Oberlehrer Weidel, and others."
This notice was tied round the neck of the melancholy stag's head in the dining-room. It graced him like a red and white dinner bib for days before the event, causing the Herr Professor to bow before it and say "good appetite" until we sickened of his pleasantry and left the smiling to be done by the waiter, who was paid to be pleasing to the guests.
On the appointed day the married ladies sailed about the pension dressed like upholstered chairs, and the unmarried ladies like draped muslin dressing-table covers. Frau Godowska pinned a rose in the centre of her reticule; another blossom was tucked in the mazy folds of a white antimacassar thrown across her breast. The gentlemen wore black coats, white silk ties and ferny buttonholes tickling the chin.
The floor of the salon was freshly polished, chairs and benches arranged, and a row of little flags strung across the ceiling—they flew and jigged in the draught with all the enthusiasm of family washing. It was arranged that I should sit beside Frau Godowska, and that the Herr Professor and Sonia should join us when their share of the concert was over.
"That will make you feel quite one of the performers," said the Herr Professor genially. "It is a great pity that the English nation is so unmusical. Never mind! To-night you shall hear something—we have discovered a nest of talent during the rehearsals."
"What do you intend to recite, Fraulein Sonia?"
She shook back her hair. "I never know until the last moment. When I come on the stage I wait for one moment and then I have the sensation as though something struck me here,"—she placed her hand upon her collar brooch—"and... words come!"
"Bend down a moment," whispered her mother. "Sonia, love, your skirt safety-pin is showing at the back. Shall I come outside and fasten it properly for you, or will you do it yourself?"
"Oh, mamma, please don't say such things," Sonia flushed and grew very angry. "You know how sensitive I am to the slightest unsympathetic impression at a time like this... I would rather my skirt dropped off my body—"
A bell tinkled.
The waiter came in and opened the piano. In the heated excitement of the moment he entirely forgot what was fitting, and flicked the keys with the grimy table napkin he carried over his arm. The Frau Oberlehrer tripped on the platform followed by a very young gentleman, who blew his nose twice before he hurled his handkerchief into the bosom of the piano.
"Yes, I know you have no love for me, And no forget-me-not. No love, no heart, and no forget-me-not."
sang the Frau Oberlehrer, in a voice that seemed to issue from her forgotten thimble and have nothing to do with her.
"Ach, how sweet, how delicate," we cried, clapping her soothingly. She bowed as though to say, "Yes, isn't it?" and retired, the very young gentleman dodging her train and scowling.
The piano was closed, an arm-chair was placed in the centre of the platform. Fraulein Sonia drifted towards it. A breathless pause. Then, presumably, the winged shaft struck her collar brooch. She implored us not to go into the woods in trained dresses, but rather as lightly draped as possible, and bed with her among the pine needles. Her loud, slightly harsh voice filled the salon. She dropped her arms over the back of the chair, moving her lean hands from the wrists. We were thrilled and silent. The Herr Professor, beside me, abnormally serious, his eyes bulging, pulled at his moustache ends. Frau Godowska adopted that peculiarly detached attitude of the proud parent. The only soul who remained untouched by her appeal was the waiter, who leaned idly against the wall of the salon and cleaned his nails with the edge of a programme. He was "off duty" and intended to show it.
"What did I say?" shouted the Herr Professor under cover of tumultuous applause, "tem-per-ament! There you have it. She is a flame in the heart of a lily. I know I am going to play well. It is my turn now. I am inspired. Fraulein Sonia"—as that lady returned to us, pale and draped in a large shawl—"you are my inspiration. To-night you shall be the soul of my trombone. Wait only."
To right and left of us people bent over and whispered admiration down Fraulein Sonia's neck. She bowed in the grand style.
"I am always successful," she said to me. "You see, when I act I AM. In Vienna, in the plays of Ibsen we had so many bouquets that the cook had three in the kitchen. But it is difficult here. There is so little magic. Do you not feel it? There is none of that mysterious perfume which floats almost as a visible thing from the souls of the Viennese audiences. My spirit starves for want of that." She leaned forward, chin on hand. "Starves," she repeated.
The Professor appeared with his trombone, blew into it, held it up to one eye, tucked back his shirt cuffs and wallowed in the soul of Sonia Godowska. Such a sensation did he create that he was recalled to play a Bavarian dance, which he acknowledged was to be taken as a breathing exercise rather than an artistic achievement. Frau Godowska kept time to it with a fan.
Followed the very young gentleman who piped in a tenor voice that he loved somebody, "with blood in his heart and a thousand pains." Fraulein Sonia acted a poison scene with the assistance of her mother's pill vial and the arm-chair replaced by a "chaise longue"; a young girl scratched a lullaby on a young fiddle; and the Herr Professor performed the last sacrificial rites on the altar of the afflicted children by playing the National Anthem.
"Now I must put mamma to bed," whispered Fraulein Sonia. "But afterwards I must take a walk. It is imperative that I free my spirit in the open air for a moment. Would you come with me as far as the railway station and back?"
"Very well, then, knock on my door when you're ready."
Thus the modern soul and I found ourselves together under the stars.
"What a night!" she said. "Do you know that poem of Sappho about her hands in the stars... I am curiously sapphic. And this is so remarkable—not only am I sapphic, I find in all the works of all the greatest writers, especially in their unedited letters, some touch, some sign of myself—some resemblance, some part of myself, like a thousand reflections of my own hands in a dark mirror."
"But what a bother," said I.
"I do not know what you mean by 'bother'; is it rather the curse of my genius..." She paused suddenly, staring at me. "Do you know my tragedy?" she asked.
I shook my head.
"My tragedy is my mother. Living with her I live with the coffin of my unborn aspirations. You heard that about the safety-pin to-night. It may seem to you a little thing, but it ruined my three first gestures. They were—"
"Impaled on a safety-pin," I suggested.
"Yes, exactly that. And when we are in Vienna I am the victim of moods, you know. I long to do wild, passionate things. And mamma says, 'Please pour out my mixture first.' Once I remember I flew into a rage and threw a washstand jug out of the window. Do you know what she said? 'Sonia, it is not so much throwing things out of windows, if only you would—'"
"Choose something smaller?" said I.
"No...'tell me about it beforehand.' Humiliating! And I do not see any possible light out of this darkness."
"Why don't you join a touring company and leave your mother in Vienna?"
"What! Leave my poor, little, sick, widowed mother in Vienna! Sooner than that I would drown myself. I love my mother as I love nobody else in the world—nobody and nothing! Do you think it is impossible to love one's tragedy? 'Out of my great sorrows I make my little songs,' that is Heine or myself."
"Oh, well, that's all right," I said cheerfully.
"'But it is not all right!"
I suggested we should turn back. We turned.
"Sometimes I think the solution lies in marriage," said Fraulein Sonia. "If I find a simple, peaceful man who adores me and will look after mamma—a man who would be for me a pillow—for genius cannot hope to mate—I shall marry him... You know the Herr Professor has paid me very marked attentions."
"Oh, Fraulein Sonia," I said, very pleased with myself, "why not marry him to your mother?" We were passing the hairdresser's shop at the moment. Fraulein Sonia clutched my arm.
"You, you," she stammered. "The cruelty. I am going to faint. Mamma to marry again before I marry—the indignity. I am going to faint here and now."
I was frightened. "You can't," I said, shaking her.
"Come back to the pension and faint as much as you please. But you can't faint here. All the shops are closed. There is nobody about. Please don't be so foolish."
"Here and here only!" She indicated the exact spot and dropped quite beautifully, lying motionless.
"Very well," I said, "faint away; but please hurry over it."
She did not move. I began to walk home, but each time I looked behind me I saw the dark form of the modern soul prone before the hairdresser's window. Finally I ran, and rooted out the Herr Professor from his room. "Fraulein Sonia has fainted," I said crossly.
"Du lieber Gott! Where? How?"
"Outside the hairdresser's shop in the Station Road."
"Jesus and Maria! Has she no water with her?"—he seized his carafe—"nobody beside her?"
"Where is my coat? No matter, I shall catch a cold on the chest. Willingly, I shall catch one... You are ready to come with me?"
"No," I said; "you can take the waiter."
"But she must have a woman. I cannot be so indelicate as to attempt to loosen her stays."
"Modern souls oughtn't to wear them," said I. He pushed past me and clattered down the stairs.
... When I came down to breakfast next morning there were two places vacant at table. Fraulein Sonia and Herr Professor had gone off for a day's excursion in the woods.
7. AT LEHMANN'S.
Certainly Sabina did not find life slow. She was on the trot from early morning until late at night. At five o'clock she tumbled out of bed, buttoned on her clothes, wearing a long-sleeved alpaca pinafore over her black frock, and groped her way downstairs into the kitchen.
Anna, the cook, had grown so fat during the summer that she adored her bed because she did not have to wear her corsets there, but could spread as much as she liked, roll about under the great mattress, calling upon Jesus and Holy Mary and Blessed Anthony himself that her life was not fit for a pig in a cellar.
Sabina was new to her work. Pink colour still flew in her cheeks; there was a little dimple on the left side of her mouth that even when she was most serious, most absorbed, popped out and gave her away. And Anna blessed that dimple. It meant an extra half-hour in bed for her; it made Sabina light the fire, turn out the kitchen and wash endless cups and saucers that had been left over from the evening before. Hans, the scullery boy, did not come until seven. He was the son of the butcher—a mean, undersized child very much like one of his father's sausages, Sabina thought. His red face was covered with pimples, and his nails indescribably filthy. When Herr Lehmann himself told Hans to get a hairpin and clean them he said they were stained from birth because his mother had always got so inky doing the accounts—and Sabina believed him and pitied him.
Winter had come very early to Mindelbau. By the end of October the streets were banked waist-high with snow, and the greater number of the "Cure Guests," sick unto death of cold water and herbs, had departed in nothing approaching peace. So the large salon was shut at Lehmann's and the breakfast-room was all the accommodation the cafe afforded. Here the floor had to be washed over, the tables rubbed, coffee-cups set out, each with its little china platter of sugar, and newspapers and magazines hung on their hooks along the walls before Herr Lehmann appeared at seven-thirty and opened business.
As a rule his wife served in the shop leading into the cafe, but she had chosen the quiet season to have a baby, and, a big woman at the best of times, she had grown so enormous in the process that her husband told her she looked unappetising, and had better remain upstairs and sew.
Sabina took on the extra work without any thought of extra pay. She loved to stand behind the counter, cutting up slices of Anna's marvellous chocolate-spotted confections, or doing up packets of sugar almonds in pink and blue striped bags.
"You'll get varicose veins, like me," said Anna. "That's what the Frau's got, too. No wonder the baby doesn't come! All her swelling's got into her legs." And Hans was immensely interested.
During the morning business was comparatively slack. Sabina answered the shop bell, attended to a few customers who drank a liqueur to warm their stomachs before the midday meal, and ran upstairs now and again to ask the Frau if she wanted anything. But in the afternoon six or seven choice spirits played cards, and everybody who was anybody drank tea or coffee.
She flew from one table to the other, counting out handfuls of small change, giving orders to Anna through the "slide," helping the men with their heavy coats, always with that magical child air about her, that delightful sense of perpetually attending a party.
"How is the Frau Lehmann?" the women would whisper.
"She feels rather low, but as well as can be expected," Sabina would answer, nodding confidentially.
Frau Lehmann's bad time was approaching. Anna and her friends referred to it as her "journey to Rome," and Sabina longed to ask questions, yet, being ashamed of her ignorance, was silent, trying to puzzle it out for herself. She knew practically nothing except that the Frau had a baby inside her, which had to come out—very painful indeed. One could not have one without a husband—that she also realised. But what had the man got to do with it? So she wondered as she sat mending tea towels in the evening, head bent over her work, light shining on her brown curls. Birth—what was it? wondered Sabina. Death—such a simple thing. She had a little picture of her dead grandmother dressed in a black silk frock, tired hands clasping the crucifix that dragged between her flattened breasts, mouth curiously tight, yet almost secretly smiling. But the grandmother had been born once—that was the important fact.
As she sat there one evening, thinking, the Young Man entered the cafe, and called for a glass of port wine. Sabina rose slowly. The long day and the hot room made her feel a little languid, but as she poured out the wine she felt the Young Man's eyes fixed on her, looked down at him and dimpled.
"It's cold out," she said, corking the bottle.
The Young Man ran his hands through his snow-powdered hair and laughed.
"I wouldn't call it exactly tropical," he said, "But you're very snug in here—look as though you've been asleep."
Very languid felt Sabina in the hot room, and the Young Man's voice was strong and deep. She thought she had never seen anybody who looked so strong—as though he could take up the table in one hand—and his restless gaze wandering over her face and figure gave her a curious thrill deep in her body, half pleasure, half pain... She wanted to stand there, close beside him, while he drank his wine. A little silence followed. Then he took a book out of his pocket, and Sabina went back to her sewing. Sitting there in the corner, she listened to the sound of the leaves being turned and the loud ticking of the clock that hung over the gilt mirror. She wanted to look at him again—there was a something about him, in his deep voice, even in the way his clothes fitted. From the room above she heard the heavy dragging sound of Frau Lehmann's footsteps, and again the old thoughts worried Sabina. If she herself should one day look like that—feel like that! Yet it would be very sweet to have a little baby to dress and jump up and down.
"Fraulein—what's your name—what are you smiling at?" called the Young Man.
She blushed and looked up, hands quiet in her lap, looked across the empty tables and shook her head.
"Come here, and I'll show you a picture," he commanded.
She went and stood beside him. He opened the book, and Sabina saw a coloured sketch of a naked girl sitting on the edge of a great, crumpled bed, a man's opera hat on the back of her head.
He put his hand over the body, leaving only the face exposed, then scrutinised Sabina closely.
"What do you mean?" she asked, knowing perfectly well.
"Why, it might be your own photograph—the face, I mean—that's as far as I can judge."
"But the hair's done differently," said Sabina, laughing. She threw back her head, and the laughter bubbled in her round white throat.
"It's rather a nice picture, don't you think?" he asked. But she was looking at a curious ring he wore on the hand that covered the girl's body, and only nodded.
"Ever seen anything like it before?"
"Oh, there's plenty of those funny ones in the illustrated papers."
"How would you like to have your picture taken that way?"
"Me? I'd never let anybody see it. Besides, I haven't got a hat like that!"
"That's easily remedied."
Again a little silence, broken by Anna throwing up the slide.
Sabina ran into the kitchen.
"Here, take this milk and egg up to the Frau," said Anna. "Who've you got in there?"
"Got such a funny man! I think he's a little gone here," tapping her forehead.
Upstairs in the ugly room the Frau sat sewing, a black shawl round her shoulders, her feet encased in red woollen slippers. The girl put the milk on a table by her, then stood, polishing a spoon on her apron.
"Na," said the Frau, heaving up in her chair. "Where's my man?"
"He's playing cards over at Snipold's. Do you want him?"
"Dear heaven, leave him alone. I'm nothing. I don't matter... And the whole day waiting here."
Her hand shook as she wiped the rim of the glass with her fat finger.
"Shall I help you to bed?"
"You go downstairs, leave me alone. Tell Anna not to let Hans grub the sugar—give him one on the ear."
"Ugly—ugly—ugly," muttered Sabina, returning to the cafe where the Young Man stood coat-buttoned, ready for departure.
"I'll come again to-morrow," said he. "Don't twist your hair back so tightly; it will lose all its curl."
"Well, you are a funny one," she said. "Good night."
By the time Sabina was ready for bed Anna was snoring. She brushed out her long hair and gathered it in her hands... Perhaps it would be a pity if it lost all its curl. Then she looked down at her straight chemise, and drawing it off, sat down on the side of the bed.
"I wish," she whispered, smiling sleepily, "there was a great big looking-glass in this room."
Lying down in the darkness, she hugged her little body.
"I wouldn't be the Frau for one hundred marks—not for a thousand marks. To look like that."
And half-dreaming, she imagined herself heaving up in her chair with the port wine bottle in her hand as the Young Man entered the cafe.
Cold and dark the next morning. Sabina woke, tired, feeling as though something heavy had been pressing under her heart all night. There was a sound of footsteps shuffling along the passage. Herr Lehmann! She must have overslept herself. Yes, he was rattling the door-handle.
"One moment, one moment," she called, dragging on her stockings.
"Bina, tell Anna to go to the Frau—but quickly. I must ride for the nurse."
"Yes, yes!" she cried. "Has it come?"
But he had gone, and she ran over to Anna and shook her by the shoulder.
"The Frau—the baby—Herr Lehmann for the nurse," she stuttered.
"Name of God!" said Anna, flinging herself out of bed.
No complaints to-day. Importance—enthusiasm in Anna's whole bearing.
"You run downstairs and light the oven. Put on a pan of water"—speaking to an imaginary sufferer as she fastened her blouse—"Yes, yes, I know—we must be worse before we are better—I'm coming—patience."
It was dark all that day. Lights were turned on immediately the cafe opened, and business was very brisk. Anna, turned out of the Frau's room by the nurse, refused to work, and sat in a corner nursing herself, listening to sounds overhead. Hans was more sympathetic than Sabina. He also forsook work, and stood by the window, picking his nose.
"But why must I do everything?" said Sabina, washing glasses. "I can't help the Frau; she oughtn't to take such a time about it."
"Listen," said Anna, "they've moved her into the back bedroom above here, so as not to disturb the people. That was a groan—that one!"
"Two small beers," shouted Herr Lehmann through the slide.
"One moment, one moment."
At eight o'clock the cafe was deserted. Sabina sat down in the corner without her sewing. Nothing seemed to have happened to the Frau. A doctor had come—that was all.
"Ach," said Sabina. "I think no more of it. I listen no more. Ach, I would like to go away—I hate this talk. I will not hear it. No, it is too much." She leaned both elbows on the table—cupped her face in her hands and pouted.
But the outer door suddenly opening, she sprang to her feet and laughed. It was the Young Man again. He ordered more port, and brought no book this time.
"Don't go and sit miles away," he grumbled. "I want to be amused. And here, take my coat. Can't you dry it somewhere?—snowing again."
"There's a warm place—the ladies' cloak-room," she said. "I'll take it in there—just by the kitchen."
She felt better, and quite happy again.
"I'll come with you," he said. "I'll see where you put it."
And that did not seem at all extraordinary. She laughed and beckoned to him.
"In here," she cried. "Feel how warm. I'll put more wood on that oven. It doesn't matter, they're all busy upstairs."
She knelt down on the floor, and thrust the wood into the oven, laughing at her own wicked extravagance.
The Frau was forgotten, the stupid day was forgotten. Here was someone beside her laughing, too. They were together in the little warm room stealing Herr Lehmann's wood. It seemed the most exciting adventure in the world. She wanted to go on laughing—or burst out crying—or—or—catch hold of the Young Man.
"What a fire," she shrieked, stretching out her hands.
"Here's a hand; pull up," said the Young Man. "There, now, you'll catch it to-morrow."
They stood opposite to each other, hands still clinging. And again that strange tremor thrilled Sabina.
"Look here," he said roughly, "are you a child, or are you playing at being one?"
Laughter ceased. She looked up at him once, then down at the floor, and began breathing like a frightened little animal.
He pulled her closer still and kissed her mouth.
"Na, what are you doing?" she whispered.
He let go her hands, he placed his on her breasts, and the room seemed to swim round Sabina. Suddenly, from the room above, a frightful, tearing shriek.
She wrenched herself away, tightened herself, drew herself up.
"Who did that—who made that noise?"
... In the silence the thin wailing of a baby.
"Achk!" shrieked Sabina, rushing from the room.
8. THE LUFT BAD.
I think it must be the umbrellas which make us look ridiculous.
When I was admitted into the enclosure for the first time, and saw my fellow-bathers walking about very nearly "in their nakeds," it struck me that the umbrellas gave a distinctly "Little Black Sambo" touch.
Ridiculous dignity in holding over yourself a green cotton thing with a red parroquet handle when you are dressed in nothing larger than a handkerchief.
There are no trees in the "Luft Bad." It boasts a collection of plain, wooden cells, a bath shelter, two swings and two odd clubs—one, presumably the lost property of Hercules or the German army, and the other to be used with safety in the cradle.
And there in all weathers we take the air—walking, or sitting in little companies talking over each other's ailments and measurements and ills that flesh is heir to.
A high wooden wall compasses us all about; above it the pine-trees look down a little superciliously, nudging each other in a way that is peculiarly trying to a debutante. Over the wall, on the right side, is the men's section. We hear them chopping down trees and sawing through planks, dashing heavy weights to the ground, and singing part songs. Yes, they take it far more seriously.
On the first day I was conscious of my legs, and went back into my cell three times to look at my watch, but when a woman with whom I had played chess for three weeks cut me dead, I took heart and joined a circle.
We lay curled on the ground while a Hungarian lady of immense proportions told us what a beautiful tomb she had bought for her second husband.
"A vault it is," she said, "with nice black railings. And so large that I can go down there and walk about. Both their photographs are there, with two very handsome wreaths sent me by my first husband's brother. There is an enlargement of a family group photograph, too, and an illuminated address presented to my first husband on his marriage. I am often there; it makes such a pleasant excursion for a fine Saturday afternoon."
She suddenly lay down flat on her back, took in six long breaths, and sat up again.
"The death agony was dreadful," she said brightly; "of the second, I mean. The 'first' was run into by a furniture wagon, and had fifty marks stolen out of a new waistcoat pocket, but the 'second' was dying for sixty-seven hours. I never ceased crying once—not even to put the children to bed."
A young Russian, with a "bang" curl on her forehead, turned to me.
"Can you do the 'Salome' dance?" she asked. "I can."
"How delightful," I said.
"Shall I do it now? Would you like to see me?"
She sprang to her feet, executed a series of amazing contortions for the next ten minutes, and then paused, panting, twisting her long hair.
"Isn't that nice?" she said. "And now I am perspiring so splendidly. I shall go and take a bath."
Opposite to me was the brownest woman I have ever seen, lying on her back, her arms clasped over her head.
"How long have you been here to-day?" she was asked.
"Oh, I spend the day here now," she answered. "I am making my own 'cure,' and living entirely on raw vegetables and nuts, and each day I feel my spirit is stronger and purer. After all, what can you expect? The majority of us are walking about with pig corpuscles and oxen fragments in our brain. The wonder is the world is as good as it is. Now I live on the simple, provided food"—she pointed to a little bag beside her—"a lettuce, a carrot, a potato, and some nuts are ample, rational nourishment. I wash them under the tap and eat them raw, just as they come from the harmless earth—fresh and uncontaminated."
"Do you take nothing else all day?" I cried.
"Water. And perhaps a banana if I wake in the night." She turned round and leaned on one elbow. "You over-eat yourself dreadfully," she said; "shamelessly! How can you expect the Flame of the Spirit to burn brightly under layers of superfluous flesh?"
I wished she would not stare at me, and thought of going to look at my watch again when a little girl wearing a string of coral beads joined us.
"The poor Frau Hauptmann cannot join us to-day," she said; "she has come out in spots all over on account of her nerves. She was very excited yesterday after having written two post-cards."
"A delicate woman," volunteered the Hungarian, "but pleasant. Fancy, she has a separate plate for each of her front teeth! But she has no right to let her daughters wear such short sailor suits. They sit about on benches, crossing their legs in a most shameless manner. What are you going to do this afternoon, Fraulein Anna?"
"Oh," said the Coral Necklace, "the Herr Oberleutnant has asked me to go with him to Landsdorf. He must buy some eggs there to take home to his mother. He saves a penny on eight eggs by knowing the right peasants to bargain with."
"Are you an American?" said the Vegetable Lady, turning to me.
"Then you are an Englishwoman?"
"You must be one of the two; you cannot help it. I have seen you walking alone several times. You wear your—"
I got up and climbed on to the swing. The air was sweet and cool, rushing past my body. Above, white clouds trailed delicately through the blue sky. From the pine forest streamed a wild perfume, the branches swayed together, rhythmically, sonorously. I felt so light and free and happy—so childish! I wanted to poke my tongue out at the circle on the grass, who, drawing close together, were whispering meaningly.
"Perhaps you do not know," cried a voice from one of the cells, "to swing is very upsetting for the stomach? A friend of mine could keep nothing down for three weeks after exciting herself so."
I went to the bath shelter and was hosed.
As I dressed, someone tapped on the wall.
"Do you know," said a voice, "there is a man who LIVES in the Luft Bad next door? He buries himself up to the armpits in mud and refuses to believe in the Trinity."
The umbrellas are the saving grace of the Luft Bad. Now when I go, I take my husband's "storm" gamp and sit in a corner, hiding behind it.
Not that I am in the least ashamed of my legs.
9. A BIRTHDAY.
Andreas Binzer woke slowly. He turned over on the narrow bed and stretched himself—yawned—opening his mouth as widely as possible and bringing his teeth together afterwards with a sharp "click." The sound of that click fascinated him; he repeated it quickly several times, with a snapping movement of the jaws. What teeth! he thought. Sound as a bell, every man jack of them. Never had one out, never had one stopped. That comes of no tomfoolery in eating, and a good regular brushing night and morning. He raised himself on his left elbow and waved his right arm over the side of the bed to feel for the chair where he put his watch and chain overnight. No chair was there—of course, he'd forgotten, there wasn't a chair in this wretched spare room. Had to put the confounded thing under his pillow. "Half-past eight, Sunday, breakfast at nine—time for the bath"—his brain ticked to the watch. He sprang out of bed and went over to the window. The venetian blind was broken, hung fan-shaped over the upper pane... "That blind must be mended. I'll get the office boy to drop in and fix it on his way home to-morrow—he's a good hand at blinds. Give him twopence and he'll do it as well as a carpenter... Anna could do it herself if she was all right. So would I, for the matter of that, but I don't like to trust myself on rickety step-ladders." He looked up at the sky: it shone, strangely white, unflecked with cloud; he looked down at the row of garden strips and backyards. The fence of these gardens was built along the edge of a gully, spanned by an iron suspension bridge, and the people had a wretched habit of throwing their empty tins over the fence into the gully. Just like them, of course! Andreas started counting the tins, and decided, viciously, to write a letter to the papers about it and sign it—sign it in full.
The servant girl came out of their back door into the yard, carrying his boots. She threw one down on the ground, thrust her hand into the other, and stared at it, sucking in her cheeks. Suddenly she bent forward, spat on the toecap, and started polishing with a brush rooted out of her apron pocket... "Slut of a girl! Heaven knows what infectious disease may be breeding now in that boot. Anna must get rid of that girl—even if she has to do without one for a bit—as soon as she's up and about again. The way she chucked one boot down and then spat upon the other! She didn't care whose boots she'd got hold of. SHE had no false notions of the respect due to the master of the house." He turned away from the window and switched his bath towel from the washstand rail, sick at heart. "I'm too sensitive for a man—that's what's the matter with me. Have been from the beginning, and will be to the end."
There was a gentle knock at the door and his mother came in. She closed the door after her and leant against it. Andreas noticed that her cap was crooked, and a long tail of hair hung over her shoulder. He went forward and kissed her.
"Good morning, mother; how's Anna?"
The old woman spoke quickly, clasping and unclasping her hands.
"Andreas, please go to Doctor Erb as soon as you are dressed."
"Why," he said, "is she bad?"
Frau Binzer nodded, and Andreas, watching her, saw her face suddenly change; a fine network of wrinkles seemed to pull over it from under the skin surface.
"Sit down on the bed a moment," he said. "Been up all night?"
"Yes. No, I won't sit down, I must go back to her. Anna has been in pain all night. She wouldn't have you disturbed before because she said you looked so run down yesterday. You told her you had caught a cold and been very worried."
Straightway Andreas felt that he was being accused.
"Well, she made me tell her, worried it out of me; you know the way she does."
Again Frau Binzer nodded.
"Oh yes, I know. She says, is your cold better, and there's a warm undervest for you in the left-hand corner of the big drawer."
Quite automatically Andreas cleared his throat twice.
"Yes," he answered. "Tell her my throat certainly feels looser. I suppose I'd better not disturb her?"
"No, and besides, TIME, Andreas."
"I'll be ready in five minutes."
They went into the passage. As Frau Binzer opened the door of the front bedroom, a long wail came from the room.
That shocked and terrified Andreas. He dashed into the bathroom, turned on both taps as far as they would go, cleaned his teeth and pared his nails while the water was running.
"Frightful business, frightful business," he heard himself whispering. "And I can't understand it. It isn't as though it were her first—it's her third. Old Schafer told me, yesterday, his wife simply 'dropped' her fourth. Anna ought to have had a qualified nurse. Mother gives way to her. Mother spoils her. I wonder what she meant by saying I'd worried Anna yesterday. Nice remark to make to a husband at a time like this. Unstrung, I suppose—and my sensitiveness again."
When he went into the kitchen for his boots, the servant girl was bent over the stove, cooking breakfast. "Breathing into that, now, I suppose," thought Andreas, and was very short with the servant girl. She did not notice. She was full of terrified joy and importance in the goings on upstairs. She felt she was learning the secrets of life with every breath she drew. Had laid the table that morning saying, "Boy," as she put down the first dish, "Girl," as she placed the second—it had worked out with the saltspoon to "Boy." "For two pins I'd tell the master that, to comfort him, like," she decided. But the Master gave her no opening.
"Put an extra cup and saucer on the table," he said; "the doctor may want some coffee."
"The doctor, sir?" The servant girl whipped a spoon out of a pan, and spilt two drops of grease on the stove. "Shall I fry something extra?" But the master had gone, slamming the door after him. He walked down the street—there was nobody about at all—dead and alive this place on a Sunday morning. As he crossed the suspension bridge a strong stench of fennel and decayed refuse streamed from the gulley, and again Andreas began concocting a letter. He turned into the main road. The shutters were still up before the shops. Scraps of newspaper, hay, and fruit skins strewed the pavement; the gutters were choked with the leavings of Saturday night. Two dogs sprawled in the middle of the road, scuffling and biting. Only the public-house at the corner was open; a young barman slopped water over the doorstep.