As they bowled along in the deliberate German express train through the Black Forest, Colonel Kenton said he had only two things against the region: it was not black, and it was not a forest. He had all his life heard of the Black Forest, and he hoped he knew what it was. The inhabitants burned charcoal, high up the mountains, and carved toys in the winter when shut in by the heavy snows; they had Easter eggs all the year round, with overshot mill-wheels in the valleys, and cherry-trees all about, always full of blossoms or ripe fruit, just as you liked to think. They were very poor people, but very devout, and lived in little villages on a friendly intimacy with their cattle. The young women of these hamlets had each a long braid of yellow hair down her back, blue eyes, and a white bodice with a cat's-cradle lacing behind; the men had bell-crowned hats and spindle-legs: they buttoned the breath out of their bodies with round pewter buttons on tight, short crimson waistcoats.
"Now, here," said the colonel, breathing on the window of the car and rubbing a little space clear of the frost, "I see nothing of the sort. Either I have been imposed upon by what I have heard of the Black Forest, or this is not the Black Forest. I'm inclined to believe that there is no Black Forest, and never was. There isn't," he added, looking again, so as not to speak hastily, "a charcoal-burner, or an Easter egg, or a cherry blossom, or a yellow braid, or a red waistcoat, to enliven the whole desolate landscape. What are we to think of it, Bessie?"
Mrs. Kenton, who sat opposite, huddled in speechless comfort under her wraps and rugs, and was just trying to decide in her own mind whether it was more delicious to let her feet, now that they were thoroughly warm, rest upon the carpet-covered cylinder of hot water, or hover just a hair's breadth above it without touching it, answered a little impatiently that she did not know. In ordinary circumstances she would not have been so short with the colonel's nonsense. She thought that was the way all men talked when they got well acquainted with you; and, as coming from a sex incapable of seriousness, she could have excused it if it had not interrupted her in her solution of so nice a problem. Colonel Kenton, however, did not mind. He at once possessed himself of much more than his share of the cylinder, extorting a cry of indignation from his wife, who now saw herself reduced from a fastidious choice of luxuries to a mere vulgar strife for the necessaries of life,--a thing any woman abhors.
"Well, well," said the colonel, "keep your old hot-water bottle. If there was any other way of warming my feet, I wouldn't touch it. It makes me sick to use it; I feel as if the doctor was going to order me some boneset tea. Give _me_ a good red-hot patent car-heater, that smells enough of burning iron to make your head ache in a minute, and sets your car on fire as soon as it rolls over the embankment. That's what _I_ call comfort. A hot-water bottle shoved under your feet--I should suppose I _was_ a woman, and a feeble one at that. I'll tell you what _I_ think about this Black Forest business, Bessie: I think it's part of a system of deception that runs through the whole German character. I have heard the Germans praised for their sincerity and honesty, but I tell you they have got to work hard to convince me of it, from this out. I am on my guard. I am not going to be taken in any more."
It became the colonel's pleasure to develop and exemplify this idea at all points of their progress through Germany. They were going to Italy, and as Mrs. Kenton had had enough of the sea in coming to Europe, they were going to Italy by the only all-rail route then existing,--from Paris to Vienna, and so down through the Simmering to Trieste and Venice. Wherever they stopped, whatever they did before reaching Vienna, Colonel Kenton chose to preserve his guarded attitude. "Ah, they pretend this is Stuttgart, do they?" he said on arriving at the Suabian capital. "A likely story! They pretended that was the Black Forest, you know, Bessie." At Munich, "And this is Munich!" he sneered, whenever the conversation flagged during their sojourn. "It's outrageous, the way they let these swindling little towns palm themselves off upon the traveller for cities he's heard of. This place will be calling itself Berlin, next." When his wife, guide-book in hand, was struggling to heat her admiration at some cold history of Kaulbach, and in her failure clinging fondly to the fact that Kaulbach had painted it, "Kaulbach!" the colonel would exclaim, and half close his eyes and slowly nod his head and smile. "What guide-book is that you've got, Bessie?" looking curiously at the volume he knew so well. "Oh!--Baedeker! And are you going to let a Black Forest Dutchman like Baedeker persuade you that this daub is by Kaulbach? Come! That's a little too much!" He rejected the birthplaces of famous persons one and all; they could not drive through a street or into a park, whose claims to be this or that street or park he did not boldly dispute; and he visited a pitiless incredulity upon the dishes of the _table d'hote_, concerning which he always answered his wife's questions: "Oh, he _says_ it's beef," or veal, or fowl, as the case might be; and though he never failed to relish his own dinner, strange fears began to affect the appetite of Mrs. Kenton. It happened that he never did come out with these sneers before other travellers, but his wife was always expecting him to do so, and afterwards portrayed herself as ready to scream, the whole time. She was not a nervous person, and regarding the colonel's jokes as part of the matrimonial contract, she usually bore them, as I have hinted, with severe composure; accepting them all, good, bad, and indifferent, as something in the nature of man which she should understand better after they had been married longer. The present journey was made just after the close of the war; they had seen very little of each other while he was in the army, and it had something of the fresh interest of a bridal tour. But they sojourned only a day or two in the places between Strasburg and Vienna; it was very cold and very unpleasant getting about, and they instinctively felt what every wise traveller knows, that it is folly to be lingering in Germany when you can get into Italy; and so they hurried on.
It was nine o'clock one night when they reached Salzburg; and when their baggage had been visited and their passports examined, they had still half an hour to wait before the train went on. They profited by the delay to consider what hotel they should stop at in Vienna, and they advised with their Bradshaw on the point. This railway guide gave in its laconic fashion several hotels, and specified the Kaiserin Elisabeth as one at which there was a table d'hote, briefly explaining that at most hotels in Vienna there was none.
"That settles it," said Mrs. Kenton. "We will go to the Kaiserin Elisabeth, of course. I'm sure I never want the bother of ordering dinner in English, let alone German, which never was meant for human beings to speak."
"It's a language you can't tell the truth in," said the colonel thoughtfully. "You can't call an open country an open country; you have to call it a Black Forest." Mrs. Kenton sighed patiently. "But I don't know about this Kaiserin Elisabeth business. How do we know that's the _real_ name of the hotel? How can _we_ be sure that it isn't an _alias_, an assumed name, trumped up for the occasion? I tell you, Bessie, we can't be too cautious as long as we're in this fatherland of lies. What guide-book is this? Baedeker? Oh! Bradshaw. Well, that's some comfort. Bradshaw's an Englishman, at least. If it had been Baedeker"--
"Oh, Edward, Edward!" Mrs. Kenton burst out. "Will you _never_ give that up? Here you've been harping on it for the last four days, and worrying my life out with it. I think it's unkind. It's perfectly bewildering me. I don't know where or what I am, any more." Some tears of vexation started to her eyes, at which Colonel Kenton put the shaggy arm of his overcoat round her, and gave her an honest hug.
"Well," he said, "I give it up, from this out. Though I shall always say that it was a joke that wore well. And I can tell you, Bessie, that it's no small sacrifice to give up a joke that you've just got into prime working order, so that you can use it on almost anything that comes up. But that's a thing that you can never understand. Let it all pass. We'll go to the Kaiserin Elisabeth, and submit to any sort of imposition they've a mind to practise upon us. I shall not breathe freely, I suppose, till we get into Italy, where people mean what they say. Haw, haw, haw!" laughed the colonel, "honest Iago's the man _I'm_ after."
The doors of the waiting-room were thrown open, and cries of "Erste Klasse! Zweite Klasse! Dritte Klasse!" summoned the variously assorted passengers to carriages of their several degrees. The colonel lifted his little wife into a non-smoking first-class carriage, and established her against the cushioned barrier dividing the two seats, so that her feet could just reach the hot-water bottle, as he called it, and tucked her in and built her up so with wraps that she was a prodigy of comfort; and then folding about him the long fur-lined coat which she had bought him at Munich (in spite of his many protests that the fur was artificial), he sat down on the seat opposite, and proudly enjoyed the perfect content that beamed from Mrs. Kenton's face, looking so small from her heap of luxurious coverings.
"Well, Bessie, this would be very pleasant--if you could believe in it," he said, as the train smoothly rolled out of the station. "But of course it can't be genuine. There must be some dodge about it. I've no doubt you'll begin to feel perfectly horrid, the first thing you know."
Mrs. Kenton let him go on, as he did at some length, and began to drowse, while he amused himself with a gross parody of things she had said during the past four days. In those years while their wedded bliss was yet practically new, Colonel Kenton found his wife an inexhaustible source of mental refreshment. He prized beyond measure the feminine inadequacy and excess of her sayings; he had stored away such a variety of these that he was able to talk her personal parlance for an hour together; indeed, he had learned the trick of inventing phrases so much in her manner that Mrs. Kenton never felt quite safe in disowning any monstrous thing attributed to her. Her drowse now became a little nap, and presently a delicious doze, in which she drifted far away from actual circumstance into a realm where she seemed to exist as a mere airy thought of her physical self; suddenly she lost this thought, and slept through all stops at stations and all changes of the hot-water cylinder, to renew which the guard, faithful to Colonel Kenton's bribe, alone opened the door.
"Wake up, Bessie!" she heard her husband saying. "We're at Vienna."
It seemed very improbable, but she did not dispute it. "What time is it?" she asked, as she suffered herself to be lifted from the carriage into the keen air of the winter night.
"Three o'clock," said the colonel, hurrying her into the waiting-room, where she sat, still somewhat remote from herself but getting nearer and nearer, while he went off about the baggage. "Now, then!" he cried cheerfully when he returned; and he led his wife out and put her into a _fiacre_. The driver bent from his perch and arrested the colonel, as he was getting in after Mrs. Kenton, with words in themselves unintelligible, but so probably in demand for neglected instructions that the colonel said, "Oh! Kaiserin Elisabeth!" and again bowed his head towards the fiacre door, when the driver addressed further speech to him, so diffuse and so presumably unnecessary that Colonel Kenton merely repeated, with rising impatience, "Kaiserin Elisabeth,--Kaiserin Elisabeth, I tell you!" and getting in shut the fiacre door after him.
The driver remained a moment in mumbled soliloquy; then he smacked his whip and drove rapidly away. They were aware of nothing outside but the starlit winter morning in unknown streets, till they plunged at last under an archway and drew up at a sort of lodge door, from which issued an example of the universal gold-cap-banded continental hotel _portier_, so like all others in Europe that it seemed idle for him to be leading an individual existence. He took the colonel's passport and summoned a waiter, who went bowing before them up a staircase more or less grandiose, and led them to a pleasant chamber, whither he sent directly a woman servant. She bade them a hearty good morning in her tongue, and, kneeling down before the tall porcelain stove, kindled from her apronful of blocks and sticks a fire that soon penetrated the travellers with a rich comfort. It was of course too early yet to think of breakfast, but it was fortunately not too late to think of sleep. They were both very tired, and it was almost noon when they woke. The colonel had the fire rekindled, and he ordered breakfast to be served them in their room. "Beefsteak and coffee--here!" he said, pointing to the table; and as he made Mrs. Kenton snug near the stove he expatiated in her own terms upon the perfect loveliness of the whole affair, and the touch of nature that made coffee and beefsteak the same in every language. It seemed that the Kaiserin Elisabeth knew how to serve such a breakfast in faultless taste; and they sat long over it, in that sense of sovereign satisfaction which beefsteak and coffee in your own room can best give. At last the colonel rose briskly and announced the order of the day. They were to go here, they were to stop there; they were to see this, they were to do that.
"Nothing of the kind," said Mrs. Kenton. "I am not going out at all to-day. It's too cold; and if we are to push on to Trieste to-morrow, I shall need the whole day to get a little rested. Besides, I have some jobs of mending to do that can't be put off any longer."
The colonel listened with an air of joyous admiration. "Bessie," said he, "this is inspiration. _I_ don't want to see their old town; and I shall ask nothing better than to spend the day with you here at our own fireside. You can sew, and I--I'll _read_ to you, Bessie!" This was a little too gross; even Mrs. Kenton laughed at this, the act of reading being so abhorrent to Colonel Kenton's active temperament that he was notorious for his avoidance of all literature except newspapers. In about ten minutes, passed in an agreeable idealization of his purpose, which came in that time to include the perusal of all the books on Italy he had picked up on their journey, the colonel said he would go down and ask the portier if they had the New York papers.
When he returned, somewhat disconsolate, to say they had not, and had apparently never heard of the Herald or Tribune, his wife smiled subtly: "Then I suppose you'll have to go to the consul's for them."
"Why, Bessie, it isn't a thing I should have suggested; I can't bear the thoughts of leaving you here alone; but as you _say_! No, I'll tell you: I'll not go for the New York papers, but I will just step round and call upon the representative of the country--pay my respects to him, you know--if you _wish_ it. But I'd far rather spend the time here with you, Bessie, in our cosy little boudoir; I would, indeed."
Mrs. Kenton now laughed outright, and--it was a tremendous sarcasm for her--asked him if he were not afraid the example of the Black Forest was becoming infectious.
"Oh, come now, Bessie; no joking," pleaded the colonel, in mock distress. "I'll tell you what, my dear, the head waiter here speaks English like a--an Ollendorff; and if you get to feeling a little lonesome while I'm out, you can just ring and order something from him, you know. It will cheer you up to hear the sound of your native tongue in a foreign land. But, pshaw! _I_ sha'nt be gone a minute!"
By this time the colonel had got on his overcoat and gloves, and had his hat in one hand, and was leaning over his wife, resting the other hand on the back of the chair in which she sat warming the toes of her slippers at the draft of the stove. She popped him a cheery little kiss on his mustache, and gave him a small push: "Stay as long as you like, Ned. I shall not be in the least lonesome. I shall do my mending, and then I shall take a nap, and by that time it will be dinner. You needn't come back before dinner. What hour is the table d'hote?"
"Oh!" cried the colonel guiltily. "The fact is, I wasn't going to tell you, I thought it would vex you so much: there _is_ no table d'hote here and never was. Bradshaw has been depraved by the moral atmosphere of Germany. I'd as soon trust Baedeker after this."
"Well, never mind," said Mrs. Kenton. "We can tell them to bring us what they like for dinner, and we can have it whenever _we_ like."
"Bessie!" exclaimed the colonel, "I have not done justice to you, and I supposed I had. I knew how bright and beautiful you were, but I _didn't_ think you were so amiable. I didn't, indeed. This is a real surprise," he said, getting out at the door. He opened it to add that he would be back in an hour, and then he went his way, with the light heart of a husband who has a day to himself with his wife's full approval.
At the consulate a still greater surprise awaited Colonel Kenton. This was the consul himself, who proved to be an old companion-in-arms, and into whose awful presence the colonel was ushered by a _Hausmeister_ in a cocked hat and a gold-braided uniform finer than that of all the American major-generals put together. The friends both shouted "Hollo!" and "_You_ don't say so!" and threw back their heads and laughed.
"Why, didn't you know I was here?" demanded the consul when the hard work of greeting was over. "I thought everybody knew that."
"Oh, I knew you were rusting out in some of these Dutch towns, but I never supposed it was Vienna. But that doesn't make any difference, so long as you _are_ here." At this they smacked each other on the knees, and laughed again. That carried them by a very rough point in their astonishment, and they now composed themselves to the pleasure of telling each other how they happened to be then and there, with glances at their personal history when they were making it together in the field.
"Well, now, what are you going to do the rest of the day?" asked the consul at last, with a look at his watch. "As I understand it, you 're going to spend it with me, somehow. The question is, how would you like to spend it?"
"This is a handsome offer, Davis; but I don't see how I'm to manage exactly," replied the colonel, for the first time distinctly recalling the memory of Mrs. Kenton. "My wife wouldn't know what had become of me, you know."
"Oh, yes, she would," retorted the consul, with a bachelor's ignorant ease of mind on a point of that kind. "We'll go round and take her with us."
The colonel gravely shook his head. "She wouldn't go, old fellow. She's in for a day's rest and odd jobs. I'll tell you what, I'll just drop round and let her know I've found you, and then come back again. You'll dine with us, won't you?" Colonel Kenton had not always found old comradeship a bond between Mrs. Kenton and his friends, but he believed he could safely chance it with Davis, whom she had always rather liked,--with such small regard as a lady's devotion to her husband leaves her for his friends.
"Oh, I'll _dine_ with you fast enough," said his friend. "But why don't you send a note to Mrs. Kenton to say that we'll be round together, and save yourself the bother? Did you come here alone?"
"Bless your heart, no! I forgot him. The poor devil's out there, cooling his heels on your stairs all this time. I came with a complete guide to Vienna. Can't you let him in out of the weather a minute?"
"We'll have him in, so that he can take your note back; but he doesn't expect to be decently treated: they don't, here. You just sit down and write it," said the consul, pushing the colonel into his own chair before his desk; and when the colonel had superscribed his note, he called in the _Lohndiener_,--patient, hat in hand,--and, "Where are you stopping?" he asked the colonel.
"Oh, I forgot that. At the Kaiserin Elisabeth. I'll just write it"--
"Never mind; we'll tell him where to take it. See here," added the consul in a serviceable Viennese German of his own construction. "Take this to the Kaiserin Elisabeth, quick;" and as the man looked up in a dull surprise, "Do you hear? The Kaiserin Elisabeth!"
"_I_ don't know what it is about that hotel," said the colonel, when the man had meekly bowed himself away, with a hat that swept the ground in honor of a handsome drink-money; "but the mention of it always seems to awaken some sort of reluctance in the minds of the lower classes. Our driver wanted to enter into conversation with me about it this morning at three o'clock, and I had to be pretty short with him. If you don't know the language, it isn't so difficult to be short in German as I've heard. And another curious thing is that Bradshaw says the Kaiserin Elisabeth has a table d'hote, and the head-waiter says she hasn't, and never did have."
"Oh, you can't trust anybody in Europe," said the consul sententiously. "I'd leave Bradshaw and the waiter to fight it out among themselves. We'll get back in time to order a dinner; it's always better, and then we can dine alone, and have a good time."
"They couldn't keep us from having a good time at a table d'hote, even. But I don't mind."
By this time they had got on their hats and coats and sallied forth. They first went to a cafe and had some of that famous Viennese coffee; and then they went to the imperial and municipal arsenals, and viewed those collections of historical bricabrac, including the head of the unhappy Turkish general who was strangled by his sovereign because he failed to take Vienna in 1683. This from familiarity had no longer any effect upon the consul, but it gave Colonel Kenton prolonged pause. "I should have preferred a subordinate position in the sultan's army, I believe," he said. "Why, Davis, what a museum we could have had out of the Army of the Potomac alone, if Lincoln had been as particular as that sultan!"
From the arsenals they went to visit the parade-ground of the garrison, and came in time to see a manoeuvre of the troops, at which they looked with the frank respect and reserved superiority with which our veterans seem to regard the military of Europe. Then they walked about and noted the principal monuments of the city, and strolled along the promenades and looked at the handsome officers and the beautiful women. Colonel Kenton admired the life and the gay movement everywhere; since leaving Paris he had seen nothing so much like New York. But he did not like their shovelling up the snow into carts everywhere and dumping all that fine sleighing into the Danube. "By the way," said his friend, "let's go over into Leopoldstadt, and see if we can't scare up a sleigh for a little turn in the suburbs."
"It's getting late, isn't it?" asked the colonel.
"Not so late as it looks. You know we haven't the high American sun, here."
Colonel Kenton was having such a good time that he felt no trouble about his wife, sitting over her mending in the Kaiserin Elisabeth; and he yielded joyfully, thinking how much she would like to hear about the suburbs of Vienna: a husband will go through almost any pleasure in order to give his wife an entertaining account of it afterwards; besides, a bachelor companionship is confusing: it makes many things appear right and feasible which are perhaps not so. It was not till their driver, who had turned out of the beaten track into a wayside drift to make room for another vehicle, attempted to regain the road by too abrupt a movement, and the shafts of their sledge responded with a loud crick-crack, that Colonel Kenton perceived the error into which he had suffered himself to be led. At three miles' distance from the city, and with the winter twilight beginning to fall, he felt the pang of a sudden remorse. It grew sorer with every homeward step and with each successive failure to secure a conveyance for their return. In fine, they trudged back to Leopoldstadt, where an absurd series of discomfitures awaited them in their attempts to get a fiacre over into the main city. They visited all the stands known to the consul, and then they were obliged to walk. But they were not tired, and they made their distance so quickly that Colonel Kenton's spirits rose again. He was able for the first time to smile at their misadventure, and some misgivings as to how Mrs. Kenton might stand affected towards a guest under the circumstances yielded to the thought of how he should make her laugh at them both. "Good old Davis!" mused the colonel, and affectionately linked his arm through that of his friend; and they stamped through the brilliantly lighted streets gay with uniforms and the picturesque costumes with which the Levant at Vienna encounters the London and Paris fashions. Suddenly the consul arrested their movement. "Didn't you say you were stopping at the Kaiserin Elisabeth?"
"Why, yes; certainly."
"Well, it's just around the corner, here." The consul turned him about, and in another minute they walked under an archway into a court-yard, and were met by the portier at the door of his room with an inquiring obeisance.
Colonel Kenton started. The cap and the cap-band were the same, and it was to all intents and purposes the same portier who had bowed him away in the morning; but the face was different. On noting this fact Colonel Kenton observed so general a change in the appointments and even architecture of the place that, "Old fellow," he said to the consul, "you've made a little mistake; this isn't the Kaiserin Elisabeth."
The consul referred the matter to the portier. Perfectly; that was the Kaiserin Elisabeth. "Well, then," said the colonel, "tell him to have us shown to my room." The portier discovered a certain embarrassment when the colonel's pleasure was made known to him, and ventured something in reply which made the consul smile.
"Look here, Kenton," he said, "_you've_ made a little mistake, this time. You're not stopping at the Kaiserin Elisabeth!"
"Oh, pshaw! Come now! Don't bring the consular dignity so low as to enter into a practical joke with a hotel porter. It won't do. We got into Vienna this morning at three, and drove straight to the Kaiserin Elisabeth. We had a room and fire, and breakfast about noon. Tell him who I am, and what I say."
The consul did so, the portier slowly and respectfully shaking his head at every point. When it came to the name, he turned to his books, and shook his head yet more impressively. Then he took down a letter, spelled its address, and handed it to the colonel; it was his own note to Mrs. Kenton. That quite crushed him. He looked at it in a dull, mechanical way, and nodded his head with compressed lips. Then he scanned the portier, and glanced round once more at the bedevilled architecture. "Well," said he, at last, "there's a mistake somewhere. Unless there are two Kaiserin Elisabeths--. Davis, ask him if there are two Kaiserin Elisabeths."
The consul compassionately put the question, received with something like grief by the portier. Impossible!
"Then I'm not stopping at either of them," continued the colonel. "So far, so good,--if you want to call it _good_. The question is now, if I'm not stopping at the Kaiserin Elisabeth," he demanded, with sudden heat, and raising his voice, "how the devil did I get there?"
The consul at this broke into a fit of laughter so violent that the portier retired a pace or two from these maniacs, and took up a safe position within his doorway. "You didn't--you didn't--get there!" shrieked the consul. "That's what made the whole trouble. You--you meant well, but you got somewhere else." He took out his handkerchief and wiped the tears from his eyes.
The colonel did not laugh; he had no real pleasure in the joke. On the contrary, he treated it as a serious business. "Very well," said he, "it will be proved next that I never told that driver to take me to the Kaiserin Elisabeth, as it appears that I never got there and am not stopping there. Will you be good enough to tell me," he asked, with polished sarcasm, "where I _am_ stopping, and why, and how?'
"I wish with all my heart I could," gasped his friend, catching his breath, "but I can't, and the only way is to go round to the principal hotels till we hit the right one. It won't take long. Come!" He passed his arm through that of the colonel, and made an explanation to the portier, as if accounting for the vagaries of some harmless eccentric he had in charge. Then he pulled his friend gently away, who yielded after a survey of the portier and the court-yard with a frown in which an indignant sense of injury quite eclipsed his former bewilderment. He had still this defiant air when they came to the next hotel, and used the portier with so much severity on finding that he was not stopping there, either, that the consul was obliged to protest: "If you behave in that way, Kenton, I won't go with you. The man's perfectly innocent of your stopping at the wrong place; and some of these hotel people know me, and I won't stand your bullying them. And I tell you what: you've got to let me have my laugh out, too. You know the thing's perfectly ridiculous, and there's no use putting any other face on it." The consul did not wait for leave to have his laugh out, but had it out in a series of furious gusts. At last the colonel himself joined him ruefully.
"Of course," said he, "I know I'm an ass, and I wouldn't mind it on my own account. _I_ would as soon roam round after that hotel the rest of the night as not, but I can't help feeling anxious about my wife. I'm afraid she'll be getting very uneasy at my being gone so long. She's all alone, there, wherever it is, and--"
"Well, but she's got your note. She'll understand--"
"What a fool _you_ are, Davis! _There's_ my note!" cried the colonel, opening his fist and showing a very small wad of paper in his palm. "She'd have got my note if she'd been at the Kaiserin Elisabeth; but she's no more there than I am."
"Oh!" said his friend, sobered at this. "To be sure! Well?"
"Well, it's no use trying to tell a man like you; but I suppose that she's simply distracted by this time. You don't know what a woman is, and how she can suffer about a little matter when she gives her mind to it."
"Oh!" said the consul again, very contritely. "I'm very sorry I laughed; but"--here he looked into the colonel's gloomy face with a countenance contorted with agony--"this only makes it the more ridiculous, you know;" and he reeled away, drunk with the mirth which filled him from head to foot. But he repented again, and with a superhuman effort so far subdued his transports as merely to quake internally, and tremble all over, as he led the way to the next hotel, arm in arm with the bewildered and embittered colonel. He encouraged the latter with much genuine sympathy, and observed a proper decorum in his interviews with one portier after another, formulating the colonel's story very neatly, and explaining at the close that this American Herr, who had arrived at Vienna before daylight and directed his driver to take him to the Kaiserin Elisabeth, and had left his hotel at one o'clock in the belief that it was the Kaiserin Elisabeth, felt now an added eagerness to know what his hotel really was from the circumstance that his wife was there quite alone and in probable distress at his long absence. At first Colonel Kenton took a lively interest in this statement of his case, and prompted the consul with various remarks and sub-statements; he was grateful for the compassion generally shown him by the portiers, and he strove with himself to give some account of the exterior and locality of his mysterious hotel. But the fact was that he had not so much as looked behind him when he quitted it, and knew nothing about its appearance; and gradually the reiteration of the points of his misadventure to one portier after another began to be as "a tale of little meaning, though the words are strong." His personation of an American Herr in great trouble of mind was an entire failure, except as illustrating the national apathy of countenance when under the influence of strong emotion. He ceased to take part in the consul's efforts in his behalf; the whole abominable affair seemed as far beyond his forecast or endeavor as some result of malign enchantment, and there was no such thing as carrying off the tragedy with self-respect. Distressing as it was, there could be no question but it was entirely ridiculous; he hung his head with shame before the portiers at being a party to it; he no longer felt like resenting Davis's amusement; he only wondered that he could keep his face in relating the idiotic mischance. Each successive failure to discover his lodging confirmed him in his humiliation and despair. Very likely there was a way out of the difficulty, but he did not know it. He became at last almost an indifferent spectator of the consul's perseverance. He began to look back with incredulity at the period of his life passed before entering the fatal fiacre that morning. He received the final portier's rejection with something like a personal derision.
"That's the last place I can think of," said the consul, wiping his brow as they emerged from the court-yard, for he had grown very warm with walking so much.
"Oh, all right," said the colonel languidly.
"But we won't give it up. Let's go in here and get some coffee, and think it over a bit." They were near one of the principal cafes, which was full of people smoking, and drinking the Viennese _melange_ out of tumblers.
"By all means," assented Colonel Kenton with inconsequent courtliness, "think it over. It's all that's left us."
Matters did not look so dark, quite, after a tumbler of coffee with milk, but they did not continue to brighten so much as they ought with the cigars. "Now let us go through the facts of the case," said the consul, and the colonel wearily reproduced his original narrative with every possible circumstance. "But you know all about it," he concluded. "I don't see any end of it. I don't see but I'm to spend the rest of my life in hunting up a hotel that professes to be the Kaiserin Elisabeth, and isn't. I never knew anything like it."
"It certainly has the charm of novelty," gloomily assented the consul: it must be owned that his gloom was a respectful feint. "I have heard of men running away from their hotels, but I never did hear of a hotel running away from a man before now. Yes--hold on! I have, too. Aladdin's palace--and with Mrs. Aladdin in it, at that! It's a parallel case." Here he abandoned himself as usual, while Colonel Kenton viewed his mirth with a dreary grin. When he at last caught his breath, "I beg your pardon, I do, indeed," the consul implored. "I know just how you feel, but of course it's coming out right. We've been to all the hotels I know of, but there must be others. We'll get some more names and start at once; and if the genie has dropped your hotel anywhere this side of Africa we shall find it. If the worst comes to the worst, you can stay at my house to-night and start new to-m--Oh, I forgot!--Mrs. Kenton! Really, the whole thing is such an amusing muddle that I can't seem to get over it." He looked at Kenton with tears in his eyes, but contained himself and decorously summoned a waiter, who brought him whatever corresponds to a city directory in Vienna. "There!" he said, when he had copied into his note-book a number of addresses, "I don't think your hotel will escape us this time;" and discharging his account he led the way to the door, Colonel Kenton listlessly following.
The wretched husband was now suffering all the anguish of a just remorse, and the heartlessness of his behavior in going off upon his own pleasure the whole afternoon and leaving his wife alone in a strange hotel to pass the time as she might was no less a poignant reproach, because it seemed so inconceivable in connection with what he had always taken to be the kindness and unselfishness of his character. We all know the sensation; and I know none, on the whole, so disagreeable, so little flattering, so persistent when once it has established itself in the ill-doer's consciousness. To find out that you are not so good or generous or magnanimous as you thought is, next to having other people find it out, probably the unfriendliest discovery that can be made. But I suppose it has its uses. Colonel Kenton now saw the unhandsomeness of his leaving his wife at all, and he beheld in its true light his shabbiness in not going back to tell her he had found his old friend and was to bring him to dinner. The Lohndiener would of course have taken him straight to his hotel, and he would have been spared this shameful exposure, which, he knew well enough, Davis would never forget, but would tell all his life with an ever-increasing garniture of fiction. He cursed his weakness in allowing himself to dawdle about those arsenals and that parade-ground, and to be so far misguided by a hardened bachelor as to admire certain yellow-haired German and black-haired Hungarian women on the promenade; when he came to think of going out in that sledge, it was with anathema maranatha. He groaned in spirit, but he owned that he was rightly punished, though it seemed hard that his wife should be punished too. And then he went on miserably to figure first her slight surprise at his being gone so long; then her vague uneasiness and her conjectures; then her dawning apprehensions and her helplessness; her probable sending to the consulate to find out what had become of him; her dismay at learning nothing of him there; her waiting and waiting in wild dismay as the moments and hours went by; her frenzied running to the door at every step and her despair when it proved not his. He had seen her suffering from less causes. And where was she? In what low, shabby tavern had he left her? He choked with rage and grief, and could hardly speak to the gentleman, a naturalized fellow-citizen of Vienna, to whom he found the consul introducing him.
"I wonder if you can't help us," said the consul. "My friend here is the victim of a curious annoyance;" and he stated the case in language so sympathetic and decorous as to restore some small shreds of the colonel's self-respect.
"Ah," said their new acquaintance, who was mercifully not a man of humor, or too polite to seem so, "that's another trick of those scamps of fiacre-drivers. He took you purposely to the wrong hotel, and was probably feed by the landlord for bringing you. But why should you make yourselves so much trouble? You know Colonel Kenton's landlord had to send his name to the police as soon as he came, and you can get his address there at once."
"Good-by!" said the consul very hastily, with a crestfallen air. "Come along, Kenton."
"What did he send my name to the police for?" demanded the colonel, in the open air.
"Oh, it's a form. They do it with all travellers. It's merely to secure the imperial government against your machinations."
"And do you mean to say you ought to have known," cried the colonel, halting him, "that you could have found out where I was from the police at once, before we had walked all over this moral vineyard, and wasted half a precious lifetime?"
"Kenton," contritely admitted the other, "I never happened to think of it."
"Well, Davis, you're a pretty consul!" That was all the colonel said, and though his friend was voluble in self-exculpation and condemnation, he did not answer him a word till they arrived at the police office. A few brief questions and replies between the commissary and the consul solved the long mystery, and Colonel Kenton had once more a hotel over his head. The commissary certified to the respectability of the place, but invited the colonel to prosecute the driver of the fiacre in behalf of the general public,--which seemed so right a thing that the colonel entered into it with zeal, and then suddenly relinquished it, remembering that he had not the rogue's number, that he had not so much as looked at him, and that he knew no more what manner of man he was than his own image in a glass. Under the circumstances, the commissary admitted that it was impossible, and as to bringing the landlord to justice, nothing could be proved against him.
"Will you ask him," said the colonel, "the outside price of a first-class assault and battery in Vienna?"
The consul put as much of this idea into German as the language would contain, which was enough to make the commissary laugh and shake his head warningly.
"It wouldn't do, he says, Kenton; it isn't the custom of the country."
"Very well, then, I don't see why we should occupy his time." He gave his hand to the commissary, whom he would have liked to embrace, and then hurried forth again with the consul. "There is one little thing that worries me still," he said. "I suppose Mrs. Kenton is simply crazy by this time."
"Is she of a very--nervous--disposition?" faltered the consul.
"Nervous? Well, if you could witness the expression of her emotions in regard to mice, you wouldn't ask that question, Davis."
At this desolating reply the consul was mute for a moment. Then he ventured: "I've heard--or read, I don't know which--that women have more real fortitude than men, and that they find a kind of moral support in an actual emergency that they wouldn't find in--mice."
"Pshaw!" answered the colonel. "You wait till you see Mrs. Kenton."
"Look here, Kenton," said the consul seriously, and stopping short. "I've been thinking that perhaps--I--I had better dine with you some other day. The fact is, the situation now seems so purely domestic that a third person, you know--"
"Come along!" cried the colonel. "I want you to help me out of this scrape. I'm going to leave that hotel as soon as I can put my things together, and you've got to browbeat the landlord for me while I go up and reassure my wife long enough to get her out of that den of thieves. What did you say the scoundrelly name was?"
"The Gasthof zum Wilden Manne."
"And what does Wildun Manny mean?"
"The Sign of the Savage, we should make it, I suppose,--the Wild Man."
"Well, I don't know whether it was named after me or not; but if I'd found that sign anywhere for the last four or five hours, I should have known it for home. There hasn't been any wilder man in Vienna since the town was laid out, I reckon; and I don't believe there ever was a wilder woman anywhere than Mrs. Kenton is at this instant."
Arrived at the Sign of the Savage, Colonel Kenton left his friend below with the portier, and mounting the stairs three steps at a time flew to his room. Flinging open the door, he beheld his wife dressed in one of her best silks, before the mirror, bestowing some last prinks, touching her back hair with her hand and twitching the bow at her throat into perfect place. She smiled at him in the glass, and said, "Where's Captain Davis?"
"Captain Davis?" gasped the colonel, dry-tongued with anxiety and fatigue. "Oh! _He's_ down there. He'll be up directly."
She turned and came forward to him: "How do you like it?" Then she advanced near enough to encounter the moustache: "Why, how heated and tired you look!"
"Yes, yes,--we've been walking. I--I'm rather late, ain't I, Bessie?"
"About an hour. I ordered dinner at six, and it's nearly seven now." The colonel started; he had not dared to look at his watch, and he had supposed it must be about ten o'clock; it seemed years since his search for the hotel had begun. But he said nothing; he felt that in some mysterious and unmerited manner Heaven was having mercy upon him, and he accepted the grace in the sneaking way we all accept mercy. "I knew you'd stay longer than you expected, when you found it was Davis."
"How did you know it was Davis?" asked the colonel, blindly feeling his way.
Mrs. Kenton picked up her Almanach de Gotha. "It has all the consular and diplomatic corps in it."
"I won't laugh at it any more," said the colonel, humbly. "Weren't you--uneasy, Bessie?"
"No. I mended away, here, and fussed round the whole afternoon, putting the trunks to rights; and I got out this dress and ran a bit of lace into the collar; and then I ordered dinner, for I knew you'd bring the captain; and I took a nap, and by that it was nearly dinner-time."
"Oh!" said the colonel.
"Yes; and the head-waiter was as polite as peas; they've all been very attentive. I shall certainly recommend everybody to the Kaiserin Elisabeth."
"Yes," assented the wretched man. "I reckon it's about the best hotel in Vienna."
"Well, now, go and get Captain Davis. You can bring him right in here; we're only travellers. Why, what makes you act so queerly? Has anything happened?" Mrs. Kenton was surprised to find herself gathered into her husband's arms and embraced with a rapture for which she could see no particular reason.
"Bessie," said her husband, "I told you this morning that you were amiable as well as bright and beautiful; I now wish to add that you are sensible. I'm awfully ashamed of being gone so long. But the fact is we had a little accident. Our sleigh broke down out in the country, and we had to walk back."
"Oh, you poor old fellow! No wonder you look tired."
He accepted the balm of her compassion like a candid and innocent man: "Yes, it was pretty rough. But _I_ didn't mind it, except on your account. I thought the delay would make you uneasy." With that he went out to the head of the stairs and called, "Davis!"
"Yes!" responded the consul; and he ascended the stairs in such trepidation that he tripped and fell part of the way up.
"Have you been saying anything to that man about my going away?"
"No, I've simply been blowing him up on the fiacre driver's account. He swears they are innocent of collusion. But of course they're not."
"Well, all right. Mrs. Kenton is waiting for us to go to dinner. And look here," whispered the colonel, "don't you open your mouth, except to put something into it, till I give you the cue."
The dinner was charming, and had suffered little or nothing from the delay. Mrs. Kenton was in raptures with it, and after a thimbleful of the good Hungarian wine had attuned her tongue, she began to sing the praises of the Kaiserin Elisabeth.
"The K----" began the consul, who had hitherto guarded himself very well. But the colonel arrested him at that letter with a terrible look. He returned the look with a glance of intelligence, and resumed: "The Kaiserin Elisabeth has the best cook in Vienna."
"And everybody about has such nice, honest faces," said Mrs. Kenton. "I'm sure I couldn't have felt anxious if you hadn't come till midnight: I knew I was perfectly secure here."
"Quite right, quite right," said the consul. "All classes of the Viennese are so faithful. Now, I dare say you could have trusted that driver of yours, who brought you here before daylight this morning, with untold gold. No stranger need fear any of the tricks ordinarily practised upon travellers in Vienna. They are a truthful, honest, virtuous population,--like all the Germans in fact."
"There, Ned! What do you say to that, with your Black Forest nonsense?" triumphed Mrs. Kenton.
Colonel Kenton laughed sheepishly: "Well, I take it all back, Bessie. I wasn't quite satisfied with the appearance of the Black Forest country when I came to it," he explained to the consul, "and Mrs. Kenton and I had our little joke about the fraudulent nature of the Germans."
"_Our_ little joke!" retorted his wife. "I wish we were going to stay longer in Vienna. They say you have to make bargains for everything in Italy, and here I suppose I could shop just as at home."
"Precisely," said the consul; the Viennese shopkeepers being the most notorious Jews in Europe.
"Oh, we can't stop longer than till the morning," remarked the colonel. "I shall be sorry to leave Vienna and the Kaiserin Elizabeth, but we must go."
"Better hang on awhile; you won't find many hotels like it, Kenton," observed his friend.
"No, I suppose not," sighed the colonel; "but I'll get the address of their correspondent in Venice and stop there."
Thus these craven spirits combined to delude and deceive the helpless woman of whom half an hour before they had stood in such abject terror. If they had found her in hysterics they would have pitied and respected her; but her good sense, her amiability, and noble self-control subjected her to their shameless mockery.
Colonel Kenton followed the consul downstairs when he went away, and pretended to justify himself. "I'll tell her one of these days," he said, "but there's no use distressing her now."
"I didn't understand you at first," said the other. "But I see now it was the only way."
"Yes; saves needless suffering. I say, Davis, this is about an even thing between us? A United States consul ought to be of some use to his fellow-citizens abroad; and if he allows them to walk their legs off hunting up a hotel which he could have found at the first police-station if _he had happened to think of it_, he won't be very anxious to tell the joke, I suppose?"
"I don't propose to write home to the papers about it."
"All right." So, in the court-yard of the Wild Man, they parted.
Long after that Mrs. Kenton continued to recommend people to the Kaiserin Elisabeth. Even when the truth was made known to her she did not see much to laugh at. "I'm sure I was always very glad the colonel didn't tell me at once," she said, "for if I had known what I had been through, I certainly _should_ have gone distracted."