The good Herr Rechtsanwalt Biedner was giving a dinner, at his flat just off the Tiergarten, to his second cousin, Fran Dodsworth, and to Fran’s husband. Herr Dr. Biedner was very Prussian, with close-cropped head, small eyes, hard jaw, and sausage rolls at the back of his neck, and he was probably the kindest and pleasantest man the Dodsworths had ever met, and the most international-minded.
Now, in the spring of 1927, Berlin looked prosperous again; also Herr Biedner had an excellent law practise, and his home was as thick with comfort as a coffee cake with sugar. In the hallway was an armoire of carved oak, and the horns of a stag; in the living-room, about a monumental stove of green porcelain, was a perfect auction-room of old easy chairs, and what seemed like hundreds of portraits of the Kaiser, Bismarck, Von Moltke, Beethoven, and Bach clustered behind the grand piano.
Sam was edified to discover that a porcelain stove really could heat a room, and that the pianist of the family was not Frau Biedner or some unrevealed daughter but Herr Biedner himself, though he seemed to be a perfectly worthy and successful lawyer. He was also gratified by the sight of three wine glasses at each plate, and of slim green bottles of Deidesheimer Auslese, 1921.
But the conversation appalled him.
They were so kind, these half dozen German business men and their wives whom Herr Biedner had assembled to greet his American cousins, and they all spoke English. But they talked of things which meant nothing in the world to Sam — of the Berlin theater, of the opera, of a Kokoschka Austellung, of Stresemann’s speech at the League of Nations Council, of the agrarian situation in Upper Silesia —
“Golly, this is going to be heavy going,” sighed Sam. “I wish somebody would tell a funny story.”
And with weighty politeness he answered the weightily polite queries of the woman next him: Was this his first trip to Germany? Was he going to stay long in Berlin? Was it really true that since Prohibition it was difficult to get wine in America?
The one light was the man beside Fran at dinner. With apparent gratification, Biedner had introduced him as Count Obersdorf, taking Sam aside to explain that Kurt von Obersdorf was the present head of one of the greatest Austrian families. His ancestors had owned castles, towns, thousands of acres, whole counties; they had had power of life and death; kings had bargained for their support. But the family had steadily grown poor the past two hundred years, and been finally ruined by the Great War, in which the Graf Kurt had served as major of Austrian artillery. Though his mother kept up a pretense of state, with two slew-footed peasant servants in a ruined old house in the Salzkammergut, Kurt was working in the Berlin bureau of the Internation Tourist Agency (the famous I.T.A.). He could not afford to marry. He had a reasonable salary; he was head of the I.T.A.‘s banking department; but he had to “punch the time-clock,” said Herr Dr. Biedner, obviously proud of this Americanism. “He is a fine sport about it. And he uses not much his title. His ancestors probably hanged my ancestors for shooting rabbits, but now he is like one of us here in my household, and he says that nowhere else in Berlin can he get a proper Suppe mit Leberknodel.”
Being impressed by the title of count and by a vision of hard-riding ancestors in armor, Sam assured himself that he wasn’t in the least impressed by title or ancestors, and he studied the family hero attentively.
Kurt von Obersdorf was perhaps forty. He was a tall, loose, lively man, with thick black hair. He had dignity enough, but he was full of laughter, and you felt that by choice he would like to be a clown. He made love to every woman and made friends with every man. Fran blushed when he kissed her hand, and Sam felt less disconsolate, less swamped by foreigners, when Kurt shook his hand and babbled in an Oxford accent with occasional tumbles into comic-paper diction, “I know so much about your Revelation car. Herr Dr. Biedner tells me you were responsible for it. I am enchanted to see you here in Berlin. Since six years I have driven a Revelation, the same car, it belongs to a friend, it is very shabby but the other day I drove it to Wild Park at a hundred and fifty kilometers an hour. I was arrested!”
Kurt demanded to see the Biedner grand-child (rather a nasty child, Sam thought, but Kurt chittered at it boisterously); then he played the piano; then he mixed the cocktails which Herr Biedner regarded as suitable to Americans and which the good burgher guests tasted with polite and beaming anxiety.
“Lively fellow, that count. Shows off too much. Never sits still,” Sam meditated, with a sound American disapproval of foreign monkey-tricks, and all the while he liked Kurt better than any one he had met since Paris.
All through dinner, Kurt concentrated on Fran.
Sam became restive as he overheard Kurt dashingly tell Fran just what her “type” was, and cheerfully insult her by announcing what he liked and what he detested about that type.
“Yes,” Sam caught, “you regard yourself as very European, Mrs. Dodsworth, but you are altogedder American. You are brilliant. You are an automobile’s head-light. You learn quick. But you hurry right out and use all you learn. You never have fun out of not letting anybody know you know something. You are very beautiful. I suppose, especial, you have the most beautiful hair I ever have seen. But you would be discontented if there came anybody who did not — wie sagt man? — who did not acknowledge it. You are a play — author and heroine and actor, every one together. A great play. But you could never just cook for some man.”
“Why should I?” demanded Fran.
It came to Sam that he had heard this before.
Major Lockert, telling Fran about herself, delighting her by talking about her, stirring her to a desire for men who desired her.
Yes. Lockert had started this biological process which had set Fran alight, changed her into something altogether different from the Fran who had sailed with him — Or had he? Perhaps her first romance had uncovered the real, the essential Fran, whom neither he nor herself had known in the chill polite years of Zenith.
And that aviator fellow, that Italian, Gioserro, had carried on the process. Damn Gioserro!
And Arnold Israel had really broken the delicate coating of ice over her. Damn Arnold Israel!
And now Kurt von Obersdorf, a man who could laugh, was going to lure her — Oh, damn Kurt!
Or should he damn Fran instead? Fran to whom life was a fashion-show.
Or damn the Sam Dodsworth who had thought carburetors more fascinating than the souls and bodies of women?
Anyway, he wouldn’t have another Arnold Israel affair. Nipitinthebud. Certainly would!
He worked up a good sound rage at Kurt von Obersdorf, and had it ruined the moment Kurt came to him, with Fran in tow, after dinner.
“Mr. Dodsworth,” said Kurt, “I have behaved outrageously to your wife. She thinks I have insulted her because I say that she is only making believe when she thinks herself European — she is lovely, really, because she IS American! But I am so pro-American! I admire all things American so much — huge buildings and central heating and adding-machines and Fords. Can I please take you about Berlin? I would be very happy!”
“Oh, we mustn’t trouble you.”
“But it would be a pleasure! Your cousins, the Biedners, they were so very kind to me when I first came from Vienna, and I have had so little chance to repay. And the Herr Doctor is so busy with legal t’ings — aber fabelhaft! I have much more time. Let me have the pleasure of doing something for the Herr Doctor!”
But from the way in which Kurt looked at Fran, Sam wondered if he might not have a livelier reason.
“Tomorrow — Sunday — are you free? May I take you out to a funny place for lunch?”
“That would be very kind of you,” Sam said unenthusiastically.
“Splendid! I call for you at twelve.”
Their suite in the Hotel Adlon looked on the eighteenth-century Pariser Platz, smacking of royal coaches and be-wigged footmen, and beyond the Branderburger Tor, at the end of Unter den Linden, they could see the thick woods and little paths of the Tiergarten. This Sunday morning, after the party at Herr Biedner’s, was flooded with spring, such exultant and surprised reawakening as only Northern cities know. Sam bullied Fran out of bed at eight-thirty, whistled while he shaved, devoured eggs in defiance of Fran’s daily objection to American breakfasts in Europe (but she always managed to eat them if they were ordered for her), and lured her into the Tiergarten. The statues of portentous armored Hohenzollerns along the Sieges Allee they admired — neither of them had yet been properly told that the statues were vulgar and absurd — and they followed paths beside brooks, over little bridges, along a lake, to the Coney Island minarets which leered at them over the wall about the Zoo. Quite lost, they rounded the Zoo, stumbled on the Braustubl and had a second breakfast of Rostwurstchen and Munich beer thick as molasses. After the more languid airs of Italy, their northern blood was roused by the spring breeze, and they came back to the Adlon chattering, smiling, content, just in time to meet Graf Obersdorf in the Adlon lobby.
He bounced toward them as though he had known them a dozen years. “It is a good thing that I shall take you away today! It is such a beautiful weather and if you are not dragged off where you can only loaf, then conscientious tourists like you would go see museums and palaces and all kind of dreadful things!”
“I am NOT a conscientious tourist!” protested Fran.
Kurt shook his head. With his experience at the Internation Tourist Agency, he could not imagine an American who was not a collector of sights, who did not work at travel as though it were a tournament with the honors to the person who could last out the largest number of museums. He was as convinced that all Americans mark down credits for themselves in their Baedekers as are Americans that all Germans drink beer every evening.
He called a taxi. Sam was rather glad that Kurt had not wasted money on an apparently private limousine. If he were going to the country by himself, Sam fancied, Kurt would go quite gaily in a motor ‘bus, and be friendly with the driver before they got there. Already he had seen Kurt plunge into lively conversations with the Adlon concierge, the news-stand man, two pages, and the taxi-driver; and most of the way out to the rustic haven disastrously named Pichelsberg, Kurt told riotously of how frightened he had been all through the war, of how he had been captured by a very small Italian with a very large rifle, and of how he had won a debate about the plays of Pirandello with the Italian major who had him in for questioning.
The driver stopped by the road to tighten the fan-belt, and Kurt skipped out to watch him.
“Kind of like an American, this fellow — this count,” said Sam. “Got a sense of humor, and don’t take himself too seriously.”
“Oh no, it’s a very different thing,” Fran insisted. “He’s completely European. Americans are humorous to cover up their worry about things. They think that what they do is immediately important and the world is waiting for it. The real European has a sense of a thousand years of ancestors like himself behind him; he knows that his love affairs or his politics or his tragedies aren’t very different from a hundred that have gone before. And they aren’t so violently ambitious for success — they want to fit into life as they find it rather than to move it about — and they’d rather retire to a little cottage hidden among trees than to build a big stucco house on a hill for strangers to admire. Count Obersdorf doesn’t take himself seriously — but he takes Obersdorfs in general and Austrians in general and Europe in general seriously. And he IS rather a lamb, isn’t he! I’ll be glad, though, when he feels easier with us and becomes his own real thoughtful self — when he understands that we’re not his ‘conscientious tourists’— imagine! — but the sort that —”
“Yeah, nice fella,” said Sam.
He was irritated by her self-election to superiority; he was bothered by her desire to have this new suitor consider her superior. When Kurt had scrambled back into the taxi she looked at him as fondly, as though he were a bright boy whom she wanted to amuse.
They left the taxicab at a path leading into thick scrub pines, and in the lazy warm day they ambled over pine needles to a shining river, the Havel, and along it to an immense waste of outdoor restaurant, the Erster Schildhorn, a block of tables set under trees by the river, attended by hysterically flying waiters. For all the haste of the waiters, it took a full hour and a half to lunch. And they liked it. In the spell of spring air, of rustling water, of good heavy stultifying food, they grew relaxed, content to sit and drink beer forever, to forget cities and hotel lobbies and motors and the social items in the New York Herald. Marinierte Herring and beer — noodle soup and beer — ham knuckle and butter-dripping mashed potatoes and beer — Apfel Strudel and whipped cream and coffee — the stolid Sam, the fiery Fran, the mercurial Kurt, they all gorged equally, and sat in the sun by the water, in a pleasant and anti-social coma, so deep a coma that Fran and Kurt did not talk and Sam was only mildly aroused by the fabulous spectacle of a man solemnly riding out on the Havel in a boat propelled like a bicycle, sausage legs revolving — a procedure as sacrilegious to Sam as rowing an automobile.
Without inquiring their desires — he was always a benevolent despot of a host — Kurt led them, when their eyes were cleared of the haze of food, on a walk of miles along the river and into Potsdam.
Here, Kurt explained, lived a small colony of the old Junkers, the court circle of before-the-war, ex-ministers and generals and their proud ladies, dispossessed by the republic. He was taking them to tea at the house of his aunt, the old Princess Drachenthal, whose husband, killed by the misery of the war which he had labored to prevent, had been an ambassador.
“The Crown Prince often comes in for tea. You will like my aunt. She is a dear old thing,” said Kurt.
“Speak English?” Sam muttered uneasily.
Kurt looked at him curiously. “She was brought up in England. Her mother was the daughter of the Duke of Wessex.”
Sam marched on tireless. Fran, in coat and skirt smart as a cavalry uniform, walked with the swift nervousness of a tennis player, while Kurt loped ahead and behind and to the side like an Airedale.
They passed country houses, square blocks of white, set in immense lawns; they passed beer gardens, festive and vocal; and came to the decorous gray flat-fronted houses of Potsdam, sedate as Gramercy Park or a crescent in Bath. It was a clean, homelike, secure kind of country, and Sam found himself liking its orderliness better than the romantic untidiness of Italy. And found himself not only liking but feeling at one with the Germans.
He still had a war psychosis. He had expected to find in Germany despotic and “sabre-clanking” officials and hateful policemen; had worked up an adequate rage in anticipation. He was nearly disappointed when he found the customs officials friendly, when he asked questions of a Berlin policeman and was answered with a salute and directions in English, and when their room waiter at the Adlon remembered having seen them at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago! Now he admitted that in all of Europe, however interesting other nationals, however merry the Italians and keen the French, he found only the British and the Germans his own sort of people. With them alone could he understand what they thought, how they lived, and what they wanted of life.
He liked this Sunday stream of Berliners on excursion — vast families with babies and rye bread and pickles and cold ham; eager young men and girls, hatless, the cropped girls rather masculine as far down as the neck but thoroughly feminine below; and occasional strayed Bavarians faithful to green hats with feathers and deer-horn ornaments, green jackets, green leather shorts, and rucksacks — the rucksacks not necessarily containing anything but a handkerchief, since to a true Bavarian a rucksack is worn not so much for portage as for elementary modesty; as some races conceal the face and some the chest so the Bavarians conceal the small of the back.
Fran protested against the infrequency of “native costumes”; she pointed out that despite the occasional Bavarians, most of these excursioners could not be told from a crowd in America. But that, after months of constantly eating the plum pudding of novelty, was precisely what Sam liked about them, and he was less homesick this afternoon than for weeks; he developed a liking for Count Obersdorf; he felt that the walk was “taking the kinks out of his legs”; he was glad that Fran had a lively companion in Kurt; and he came cheerfully up to the gloomy brown mansion of the Princess Drachenthal.
She was a fragile old lady, like a porcelain cup, and she seemed translucent as porcelain. She called Fran “my dear,” and she welcomed Sam to Germany. Apparently Kurt had telephoned about the Dodsworths; she said that she was glad to have a “great American industrialist” see Germany first hand.
“My poor stricken country needs the co-operation of America. We look to you — and if you do not give back the glance we shall have to look to Russia.”
She was apparently convinced that Sam had come in a limousine; she asked whether he had sent his chauffeur round back for his tea; and when she learned that Kurt and these visiting dignitaries had actually lunched at a low Volk Lokal and walked into Potsdam, she shook her head, as one not understanding. There were so many things the little old Princess did not understand in these machine-devoured days, she who as a girl had known the security of an old cow-smelling country house in Silesia and of a rose-red Tudor mansion in Wiltshire, in a day when counts did not work in tourist agencies, and America was a wilderness to which rebellious peasants ran off, quite unaccountably and naughtily. But there was the reality of breeding in her, and she tried to understand this bulky “great American industrialist” who was so silently pleasant, this vivacious American woman with the marvelous ruffled blouse peeping from her little blue jacket, the ageless American girl whose gay poise reduced the Count Obersdorf to the position of rattle-headed boy.
Sam perceived the worn elegance of the Princess, took pride in Fran’s deference, and found restfulness in the drawing-room, which had very bad gilt chairs, an over-ornamented porcelain stove with very bad plaques of bounding shepherdesses, very bad pictures of stag-hunting and moonlight, far too many glass cases with Prince Drachenthal’s decorations, far too many faded cabinet photographs of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s and yet, bad in all its details, was suggestive of aristocratic generations.
A retired German general came in for tea, with a refugee Russian colonel-baron, a Frau von Something who was apparently so distinguished that no one thought of explaining her, and a handsome fervent boy, the Princess’s grand-son, who was taking his examinations in law at the University of Bonn and who wanted, he said, to go to America. They were free of Renee de Penable’s pretentiousness, as simple as a group at Tub Pearson’s, decided Sam. No, they were simpler, for Tub would have to be humorous for the benefit of the ladies and gentlemen, no matter how it hurt. Kurt von Obersdorf had dropped all of the slight skittishness into which he fell when he pranced for Fran’s benefit, and he was discussing Bolshevism with the Russian ex-colonel.
They somehow lured Sam into talking. He discovered himself being eloquent about chrome steel and General Motors stock, while Fran, in a corner, was deferentially lively with Princess Drachenthal.
“Sort of like coming home — no, it’s more like coming home than coming home will be, because Fran is satisfied here. Oh, Lord, WILL she be satisfied in Zenith when — Oh, quit fussing! Course she will!” reflected the inner Sam, while the outer Mr. Dodsworth sagely informed them, “— and in my opinion the greatest fallacy in world-marketing today is a competition between American, German, French, English and Italian cars in South America, instead of all of us combining to educate the South Americans to use more motors and especially to help them to build more through highways that would tap every square mile of the continent —”
He wondered why Fran had been uneasy, in Venice, with Edith Cortright, when she was suavely at ease with Princess Drachenthal, far more of a personage.
“Because she was jealous? Because Mrs. Cortright, an American, has a position and a flat in a palace and everything? Or because she felt Mrs. Cortright could catch her easier when she was bluffing? No! That’s unfair! Fran is no bluffer! Look how lovely she is to the old Princess, and how the Count and the General and everybody falls for her!”
They rode back to Berlin in the train, rather quietly. Sam hinted that Kurt must have an engagement for the evening, but Kurt protested, almost childishly, “Oh no! Are you bored with me? You must let me take you to dinner!”
“Of course, we’d be ENCHANTED,” said Fran, and Sam, prodded with a look, achieved, “Mighty nice of you, Count.”
“If you really like, I will show you a nice restaurant, and maybe later — if you are not too tired, Madame — we could go a little while to some place to dance. You dance, I know, like an angel.”
“Next to Carry Nation and Susan B. Anthony,” said Fran gravely, “I am probably the best dancer in America.”
“They are famous dancers?” said Kurt.
“Yes, they’re so good they’re known in America as the Gold Dust twins,” explained Sam.
“Really? And you dance like them, Madame? I shall have to be very good!” said Kurt.
While Fran dressed for dinner, Sam and Kurt had side-car cocktails in the Adlon Bar. Sam liked the scarlet Chinese Chippendale walls, with little Burmese figures; the somewhat obese Bacchanalians in the painting over the bar; the corners with settees comforting to a drinking man; and the fact that here was one place in Europe where no foreign language — i.e., any language save American, with traces of English — was ever heard.
At the bar were always half a dozen of the American business men stationed in Berlin — shipping-men, bankers, representatives of the movies, and for the American journalists it was a club, where they exchanged tips on Russia and Roumania, Breitscheid’s coming speech and the Zentrum Party’s capture of the schools.
“I like this; I see myself sneaking in here pretty often,” Sam promised himself.
He forgot the bar in attention to Kurt’s confidences. He had never known any one so frankly emotional about his friends as Kurt, nor one so eager to be liked.
“Shall I be rude if I talk about Mrs. Dodsworth?” urged Kurt. “She is so lovely! A kind of Arctic beauty, shining like ice. And yet so very warm-hearted and gracious and fun-ny. And such gallantry — an explorer — but very elegant — like in a Roman, with many bearers and dressing for dinner in the jungle. One feels she could do anything she wanted to enough. Forever young. She is — perhaps thirty-five? — one would say she was twenty-eight. Our European women are very gemutlich, they are easy to be with, they wait on us, but not many among them have a sword-like quality like Mrs. Dodsworth and such high spirits — Oh, I hope I am not rude! She is lucky to be accompany with a great red Indian like you — a chief, sagt man? — who can guide and protect her!”
Sam made the most awkward sound — something between “Thanks” and “Like hell!”
“As I said once, I admire America very much, and it is so kind of you two to come and bummel with me! And meet my friends.”
“Kindness all yours, Count. Good Lord! Mighty nice of you to let us meet such nice people as the Princess and —”
“Oh, don’t call me ‘Count.’ I am not a count — there aren’t any more counts — the republic has come to stay — I am just a clerk for the I.T.A.! If I am only something with a title, then I would better be nothing! I shall be glad if you call me ‘Kurt.’ We Austrians are almost like you Americans in our fondness to call by the first name among people we like. Yes.”
“Well, that’s mighty nice of you —”
Sam wished that he could warm up. But he was conscious of waiting for Fran — of Kurt’s waiting. He was annoyed at the prospect of again being admitted as Fran’s patient escort, as he had been in Madame de Penable’s gang. Yet he felt that Kurt was honest in professing admiration for both of them, and he forced himself to sound amiable:
“I guess one of the things we Americans fool ourselves about is claiming that we’re the only really hospitable race in the world. Don’t believe any stranger in America ever was received in a more friendly way than Mrs. Dodsworth and — than Fran and I have been here and in England. Mighty nice!”
Then Fran was upon them, in amethyst velvet, and with velvet she had put on a patronizing grandeur. The simple-hearted Kurt was confused; it took him ten minutes to understand that she was not showing displeasure in dropping her jollity, but merely playing a different role. Entreated to join them in a cocktail, she condescended. “It would be ever so amusing to have an aperitif in the bar, but do you really think one COULD?”
“Oh yess, it is quite proper . . . almost!” Kurt begged.
Sam said nothing. He had seen Fran enjoying too many drinks in too many bars, and not calling them “aperitifs,” either.
She was full of high life amid the upholstery and expensive food of Horcher’s, and she generously commended the Rheinlachs. But somehow she came out of it — somehow, sometime, Kurt began calling her “Fran,” and she admitted him with “Kurt”; she laughed without admiring her own laughter, and, permitting them an entr’acte during her personal drama of The Sophisticated American Lady Abroad, she allowed them to be human and cheerful again. Kurt talked, less flamboyantly now, more naturally, and Sam realized that however Kurt might insist that he was no nobleman now but only a tourist-agency clerk, Kurt belonged to the once powerful of the earth and, but for the war, would be magnificence in a castle. His father had been gentleman in waiting and friend to the Emperor, his great-uncle, the field-marshal, had organized the war against Prussia, and he himself, as a boy, had played with the Archduke Michael.
Sam wondered whether, however genuine his family, Kurt was one of these fictitional adventurers who would be likely to borrow money, and to introduce swindlers to a rustic from the Middle West. He rejected it. No. If he knew anything about people, this man was honest, unselfishly fond of entertaining people. And the Biedners vouched for him, and to Fran’s father, the canny old brewer, a Biedner had been almost as beautiful and dependable and generally Biblical as stock in a national bank.
Obviously Fran had no doubts whatever about Kurt von Obersdorf. In the glow of his stories about the frivolous days of old Vienna, she forgot her own charms. She consented when Kurt proposed that they go to the Konigin and dance; she consented when he proposed that they leave that decorative but packed haunt of the more sporting Junkers and venture to the vulgar Cabaret von Vetter Kaspar.
The wit there was devoted chiefly to the water-closet, and Sam was astonished to hear Fran shamelessly joining in Kurt’s whooping laughter. Of course he laughed himself; but still — Well, this fellow Obersdorf, he enjoyed things himself so much that he made you feel like laughing at — well, at things that people didn’t talk about in Zenith, anyway not in mixed company — But still —
They came out of the cabaret at one in the morning.
“Now just one more place!” Kurt demanded. “Such a place as I do not think you will see in America. Shrecklich! Such curious men hang out there and dance with one another. but you must see it once.”
“Oh, it’s pretty late, Kurt. I think we’d better be getting home,” said Sam. An evening of stories, and a bottle of champagne, had warmed him to a point where it seemed natural to call Kurt by his first name, but not to a point where he forgot the joys of a good soft pillow.
“Yes, it IS late,” said Fran, but vaguely.
“Oh no!” Kurt begged. “Life is so short! To waste it in sleeping! And you are here a so small time. Then you will wander on and perhaps I shall never see you again! Oh, you did enjoy today, did you not? We are good friends, nicht? Let us not be serious! Please! Life is so short!”
“Oh, of course we’ll come!” rippled Fran; and, though Sam grumbled to himself, “Life’ll be a damn’ sight shorter if I don’t get some sleep once in a while!” he looked agreeable as they heaved themselves into a taxicab.
Their new venture in restaurants was called “Die Neuste Ehe”—“The Latest Style in Marriage”— and after two minutes’ view of it, Sam concluded that he preferred the old style. Here, in a city in which, according to the sentiment of the American comic weeklies, all males were thick as pancakes and stolid as plow-horses, was a mass of delicate young men with the voices of chorus girls, dancing together and whispering in corners, young men with scarves of violet and rose, wearing bracelets and heavy symbolic rings. And there was a girl in lavender chiffon — only from the set of her shoulders Sam was sure that she was a man.
As they entered, the bartender, and a very pretty and pink-cheeked bartender he was, waved his towel at them and said something in a shrill playful German which Sam took to signify that Kurt was a charming person worthy of closer acquaintance, that he himself was a tower of steel and a glory upon the mountains.
It was new to Sam.
He stood gaping. His fists half clenched. The thick, reddish hair on the back of his hands bristled. But it was not belligerence he felt — it was fear of something unholy. He saw that Fran was equally aghast; proudly he saw that she drew nearer his stalwartness.
Kurt looked at the jocund bartender; quickly he looked at Fran and Sam; and he murmured, “This is a silly place. Come! Come! We go some place else!”
Already the manager was upon them, smirking, inviting them in two languages to give up their wraps. Kurt said something to him in a rapid, hissing German — something that made the manager sneer and back off — something so hateful and contemptuous that Sam reflected, “This Kurt is quite a fellow, after all. Wouldn’t be such a bad guy to have with you in a scrap!”
As Kurt lifted the heavy brocade curtain before the street door to usher them out, the bartender, in a cat-call voice, shouted something final. Kurt’s jaw tightened. It was a good jaw-line. But he did not turn and, out on the pavement, his face was full of an apology that was almost suffering as he begged of Fran:
“I am so sorry. I had never been there. I had just heard of it. I did not think they would be so dreadful. Oh, you will never forgive me!”
“But I didn’t mind them!” Fran protested. “I think it would have been amusing to watch them, for a little while.”
Kurt insisted, “Oh no, no, no! Of course you were shocked! Come! There is another place I do know, over the street. You will show me you forgive me by coming —”
They danced till three, at which hour every one in the cafe was sleepy except Kurt. The orchestra went home and, to the cheers of the grimly merry groups who were left slumbering over their champagne, Kurt trotted forward and played the piano like a vaudeville performer, and they all obediently awakened for the last dregs of joviality. A monocled officer-like German begged Fran to dance, and Sam was able to snatch three minutes of secret sleep.
He was gratified when, after he had grumbled, “Now we’ve GOT to go home,” Fran and Kurt took him seriously enough to consent.
It was raining, and the street was like the inside of a polished steel cylinder. A late taxicab cruised up, but the doorman and his faithful big umbrella had gone home. Kurt whipped off his coat, wrapped it about Fran and, in shirtsleeves, stood waiting till Sam was inside the cab. . . . And he WOULD sit on the little folding seat and he wouldn’t let them take him home, but escorted them to the Adlon, babbling, “It was fun, wasn’t it! You do forgive me for the Neuste Ehe, don’t you! It was a von-derful day, wasn’t it! And you will come by me Wednesday evening for a little dinner to meet some friends? Oh, you must!”
Yes, they would, thank you very much —
In the extreme drowsiness of their room, Fran hinted, “You enjoyed it, didn’t you, darling?”
“Yes, everything except the last hour or so. Got pretty sleepy.”
“Kurt is a darling, don’t you think?”
“Yes, he’s a nice fellow. Mighty kind.”
“But Heavens, what a bossy person he is! He simply demanded that I be shocked at that Den of Vice, and I had to do my best to please him — and you too, you pure-minded males! Well, he’s a nice boy, and so are you, and I’m going to sleep till noon I LIKE Berlin!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57