At the Sign of the Savage by William D. Howells
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
"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
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'hôte, 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'hôte, 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
"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'hôte?"
"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'hôte 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
"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,
"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
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'hôte, 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'hôte, 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 café 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
From the arsenals they went to visit the parade-ground of the garrison,
and came in time to see a manœuvre 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,
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
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
"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
"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 cafés, which
was full of people smoking, and drinking the Viennese mélange out of
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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?" 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
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
"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
"Yes," assented the wretched man. "I reckon it's about the best hotel in
"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
"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."