Книга Three Men on the Bummel. Содержание - Chapter VIII

I said: "What has happened?"

"Well," he answered, "there was that cushion I wanted."

"For your aunt," I remarked.

"Why not?" he returned. He was huffy in a moment; I never knew a man so touchy about an aunt. "Why shouldn't I send a cushion to my aunt?"

"Don't get excited," I replied. "I am not objecting; I respect you for it."

He recovered his temper, and went on:

"There were four in the window, if you remember, all very much alike, and each one labelled in plain figures twenty marks. I don't pretend to speak German fluently, but I can generally make myself understood with a little effort, and gather the sense of what is said to me, provided they don't gabble. I went into the shop. A young girl came up to me; she was a pretty, quiet little soul, one might almost say, demure; not at all the sort of girl from whom you would have expected such a thing. I was never more surprised in all my life."

"Surprised about what?" I said.

George always assumes you know the end of the story while he is telling you the beginning; it is an annoying method.

"At what happened," replied George; "at what I am telling you. She smiled and asked me what I wanted. I understood that all right; there could have been no mistake about that. I put down a twenty mark piece on the counter and said:

"Please give me a cushion."

"She stared at me as if I had asked for a feather bed. I thought, maybe, she had not heard, so I repeated it louder. If I had chucked her under the chin she could not have looked more surprised or indignant.

"She said she thought I must be making a mistake.

"I did not want to begin a long conversation and find myself stranded. I said there was no mistake. I pointed to my twenty mark piece, and repeated for the third time that I wanted a cushion, 'a twenty mark cushion.'

"Another girl came up, an elder girl; and the first girl repeated to her what I had just said: she seemed quite excited about it. The second girl did not believe her-did not think I looked the sort of man who would want a cushion. To make sure, she put the question to me herself.

"'Did you say you wanted a cushion?' she asked.

"'I have said it three times,' I answered. 'I will say it again-I want a cushion.'

"She said: 'Then you can't have one.'

"I was getting angry by this time. If I hadn't really wanted the thing I should have walked out of the shop; but there the cushions were in the window, evidently for sale. I didn't see WHY I couldn't have one.

"I said: 'I will have one!' It is a simple sentence. I said it with determination.

"A third girl came up at this point, the three representing, I fancy, the whole force of the shop. She was a bright-eyed, saucy— looking little wench, this last one. On any other occasion I might have been pleased to see her; now, her coming only irritated me. I didn't see the need of three girls for this business.

"The first two girls started explaining the thing to the third girl, and before they were half-way through the third girl began to giggle-she was the sort of girl who would giggle at anything. That done, they fell to chattering like Jenny Wrens, all three together; and between every half-dozen words they looked across at me; and the more they looked at me the more the third girl giggled; and before they had finished they were all three giggling, the little idiots; you might have thought I was a clown, giving a private performance.

"When she was steady enough to move, the third girl came up to me; she was still giggling. She said:

"'If you get it, will you go?'

"I did not quite understand her at first, and she repeated it.

"'This cushion. When you've got it, will you go-away-at once?'

"I was only too anxious to go. I told her so. But, I added I was not going without it. I had made up my mind to have that cushion now if I stopped in the shop all night for it.

"She rejoined the other two girls. I thought they were going to get me the cushion and have done with the business. Instead of that, the strangest thing possible happened. The two other girls got behind the first girl, all three still giggling, Heaven knows what about, and pushed her towards me. They pushed her close up to me, and then, before I knew what was happening, she put her hands on my shoulders, stood up on tiptoe, and kissed me. After which, burying her face in her apron, she ran off, followed by the second girl. The third girl opened the door for me, and so evidently expected me to go, that in my confusion I went, leaving my twenty marks behind me. I don't say I minded the kiss, though I did not particularly want it, while I did want the cushion. I don't like to go back to the shop. I cannot understand the thing at all."

I said: "What did you ask for?"

He said: "A cushion"

I said: "That is what you wanted, I know. What I mean is, what was the actual German word you said."

He replied: "A kuss."

I said: "You have nothing to complain of. It is somewhat confusing. A 'kuss' sounds as if it ought to be a cushion, but it is not; it is a kiss, while a 'kissen' is a cushion. You muddled up the two words-people have done it before. I don't know much about this sort of thing myself; but you asked for a twenty mark kiss, and from your description of the girl some people might consider the price reasonable. Anyhow, I should not tell Harris. If I remember rightly, he also has an aunt."

George agreed with me it would be better not.

Chapter VIII

Mr. and Miss Jones, of Manchester-The benefits of cocoa-A hint to the Peace Society-The window as a mediaeval argument-The favourite Christian recreation-The language of the guide-How to repair the ravages of time-George tries a bottle-The fate of the German beer drinker-Harris and I resolve to do a good action-The usual sort of statue-Harris and his friends-A pepperless Paradise-Women and towns.

We were on our way to Prague, and were waiting in the great hall of the Dresden Station until such time as the powers-that-be should permit us on to the platform. George, who had wandered to the bookstall, returned to us with a wild look in his eyes. He said:

"I've seen it."

I said, "Seen what?"

He was too excited to answer intelligently. He said

"It's here. It's coming this way, both of them. If you wait, you'll see it for yourselves. I'm not joking; it's the real thing."

As is usual about this period, some paragraphs, more or less serious, had been appearing in the papers concerning the sea— serpent, and I thought for the moment he must be referring to this. A moment's reflection, however, told me that here, in the middle of Europe, three hundred miles from the coast, such a thing was impossible. Before I could question him further, he seized me by the arm.

"Look!" he said; "now am I exaggerating?"

I turned my head and saw what, I suppose, few living Englishmen have ever seen before-the travelling Britisher according to the Continental idea, accompanied by his daughter. They were coming towards us in the flesh and blood, unless we were dreaming, alive and concrete-the English "Milor" and the English "Mees," as for generations they have been portrayed in the Continental comic press and upon the Continental stage. They were perfect in every detail. The man was tall and thin, with sandy hair, a huge nose, and long Dundreary whiskers. Over a pepper-and-salt suit he wore a light overcoat, reaching almost to his heels. His white helmet was ornamented with a green veil; a pair of opera-glasses hung at his side, and in his lavender-gloved hand he carried an alpenstock a little taller than himself. His daughter was long and angular. Her dress I cannot describe: my grandfather, poor gentleman, might have been able to do so; it would have been more familiar to him. I can only say that it appeared to me unnecessarily short, exhibiting a pair of ankles-if I may be permitted to refer to such points-that, from an artistic point of view, called rather for concealment. Her hat made me think of Mrs. Hemans; but why I cannot explain. She wore side-spring boots-"prunella," I believe, used to be the trade name-mittens, and pince-nez. She also carried an alpenstock (there is not a mountain within a hundred miles of Dresden) and a black bag strapped to her waist. Her teeth stuck out like a rabbit's, and her figure was that of a bolster on stilts.

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