In a German Pension
Part 1 out of 2
This etext was prepared by Sue Asscher
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"My omelette is empty--EMPTY," she protested, "and this is the third I have
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"A wise idea," I answered. And then: "Why have you denied us the
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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--
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
"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
"How cool you are looking," she said; "and if I may make the remark--what a
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
For a moment there was silence. Then Frau Fischer reached down and caught
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"That's not how a wedding should be," she said; "it's not religion to love
"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
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
"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,
"Remember the night that we came home? You were an innocent one, you
"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
"Always the same," she said--"all over the world the same; but, God in
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
"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
"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
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,
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
"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
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
"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
"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?"
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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'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
"Got such a funny man! I think he's a little gone here," tapping her
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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 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.
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