Frau Fischer was the fortunate possessor of a candle factory somewhere
the banks of the Eger, and once a year she ceased from her labours
a "cure" in Dorschausen, arriving with a dress-basket
neatly covered in a
black tarpaulin and a hand-bag. The latter contained amongst her
handkerchiefs, eau de Cologne, toothpicks, and a certain woollen
very comforting to the "magen," samples of her skill in
be offered up as tokens of thanksgiving when her holiday time was
Four of the clock one July afternoon she appeared at the Pension
was sitting in the arbour and watched her bustling up the path followed
the red-bearded porter with her dress-basket in his arms and a sunflower
between his teeth. The widow and her five innocent daughters stood
tastefully grouped upon the steps in appropriate attitudes of welcome;
the greetings were so long and loud that I felt a sympathetic glow.
"What a journey!" cried the Frau Fischer. "And nothing
to eat in the
train--nothing solid. I assure you the sides of my stomach are flapping
together. But I must not spoil my appetite for dinner--just a cup
coffee in my room. Bertha," turning to the youngest of the
changed! What a bust! Frau Hartmann, I congratulate you."
Once again the Widow seized Frau Fischer's hands. "Kathi,
too, a splendid
woman; but a little pale. Perhaps the young man from Nurnberg is
again this year. How you keep them all I don't know. Each year I
expecting to find you with an empty nest. It's surprising."
Frau Hartmann, in an ashamed, apologetic voice: "We are such
family since my dear man died."
"But these marriages--one must have courage; and after all,
give them time,
they all make the happy family bigger--thank God for that...Are
people here just now?"
"Every room engaged."
Followed a detailed description in the hall, murmured on the stairs,
continued in six parts as they entered the large room (windows opening
the garden) which Frau Fischer occupied each successive year. I
reading the "Miracles of Lourdes," which a Catholic priest--fixing
eye upon my soul--had begged me to digest; but its wonders were
routed by Frau Fischer's arrival. Not even the white roses upon
of the Virgin could flourish in that atmosphere.
"...It was a simple shepherd-child who pastured her flocks
Voices from the room above: "The washstand has, of course,
over with soda."
"...Poverty-stricken, her limbs with tattered rags half covered..."
"Every stick of the furniture has been sunning in the garden
days. And the carpet we made ourselves out of old clothes. There
piece of that beautiful flannel petticoat you left us last summer."
"...Deaf and dumb was the child; in fact, the population considered
"Yes, that is a new picture of the Kaiser. We have moved the
one of Jesus Christ out into the passage. It was not cheerful to
with. Dear Frau Fischer, won't you take your coffee out in the garden?"
"That is a very nice idea. But first I must remove my corsets
boots. Ah, what a relief to wear sandals again. I am needing the
very badly this year. My nerves! I am a mass of them. During the
journey I sat with my handkerchief over my head, even while the
collected the tickets. Exhausted!"
She came into the arbour wearing a black and white spotted dressing-gown,
and a calico cap peaked with patent leather, followed by Kathi,
the little blue jugs of malt coffee. We were formally introduced.
Fischer sat down, produced a perfectly clean pocket handkerchief
polished her cup and saucer, then lifted the lid of the coffee-pot
peered in at the contents mournfully.
"Malt coffee," she said. "Ah, for the first few
days I wonder how I can
put up with it. Naturally, absent from home one must expect much
discomfort and strange food. But as I used to say to my dear husband:
with a clean sheet and a good cup of coffee I can find my happiness
anywhere. But now, with nerves like mine, no sacrifice is too terrible
me to make. What complaint are you suffering from? You look exceedingly
I smiled and shrugged my shoulders.
"Ah, that is so strange about you English. You do not seem
discussing the functions of the body. As well speak of a railway
refuse to mention the engine. How can we hope to understand anybody,
knowing nothing of their stomachs? In my husband's most severe illness--
She dipped a piece of sugar in her coffee and watched it dissolve.
"Yet a young friend of mine who travelled to England for the
funeral of his
brother told me that women wore bodices in public restaurants no
could help looking into as he handed the soup."
"But only German waiters," I said. "English ones
look over the top of your
"There," she cried, "now you see your dependence
on Germany. Not even an
efficient waiter can you have by yourselves."
"But I prefer them to look over your head."
"And that proves that you must be ashamed of your bodice."
I looked out over the garden full of wall-flowers and standard
growing stiffly like German bouquets, feeling I did not care one
way or the
other. I rather wanted to ask her if the young friend had gone to
in the capacity of waiter to attend the funeral baked meats, but
was not worth it. The weather was too hot to be malicious, and who
be uncharitable, victimised by the flapping sensations which Frau
was enduring until six-thirty? As a gift from heaven for my forbearance,
down the path towards us came the Herr Rat, angelically clad in
silk suit. He and Frau Fischer were old friends. She drew the folds
her dressing-gown together, and made room for him on the little
"How cool you are looking," she said; "and if I
may make the remark--what a
"Surely I wore it last summer when you were here? I brought
the silk from
China--smuggled it through the Russian customs by swathing it round
body. And such a quantity: two dress lengths for my sister-in-law,
suits for myself, a cloak for the housekeeper of my flat in Munich.
perspired! Every inch of it had to be washed afterwards."
"Surely you have had more adventures than any man in Germany.
When I think
of the time that you spent in Turkey with a drunken guide who was
a mad dog and fell over a precipice into a field of attar of roses,
lament that you have not written a book."
"Time--time. I am getting a few notes together. And now that
you are here
we shall renew our quiet little talks after supper. Yes? It is necessary
and pleasant for a man to find relaxation in the company of women
"Indeed I realise that. Even here your life is too strenuous--you
sought after--so admired. It was just the same with my dear husband.
was a tall, beautiful man, and sometimes in the evening he would
into the kitchen and say: 'Wife, I would like to be stupid for two
minutes.' Nothing rested him so much then as for me to stroke his
The Herr Rat's bald pate glistening in the sunlight seemed symbolical
the sad absence of a wife.
I began to wonder as to the nature of these quiet little after-supper
talks. How could one play Delilah to so shorn a Samson?
"Herr Hoffmann from Berlin arrived yesterday," said the
"That young man I refuse to converse with. He told me last
year that he
had stayed in France in an hotel where they did not have serviettes;
place it must have been! In Austria even the cabmen have serviettes.
I have heard that he discussed 'free love' with Bertha as she was
his room. I am not accustomed to such company. I had suspected him
"Young blood," answered the Herr Rat genially. "I
have had several
disputes with him--you have heard them--is it not so?" turning
"A great many," I said, smiling.
"Doubtless you too consider me behind the times. I make no
secret of my
age; I am sixty-nine; but you must have surely observed how impossible
was for him to speak at all when I raised my voice."
I replied with the utmost conviction, and, catching Frau Fischer's
suddenly realised I had better go back to the house and write some
It was dark and cool in my room. A chestnut tree pushed green boughs
against the window. I looked down at the horsehair sofa so openly
the idea of curling up as immoral, pulled the red pillow on to the
and lay down. And barely had I got comfortable when the door opened
Frau Fischer entered.
"The Herr Rat had a bathing appointment," she said, shutting
the door after
her. "May I come in? Pray do not move. You look like a little
kitten. Now, tell me something really interesting about your life.
meet new people I squeeze them dry like a sponge. To begin with--you
I admit the fact.
"Then, dear child, where is your husband?"
I said he was a sea-captain on a long and perilous voyage.
"What a position to leave you in--so young and so unprotected."
She sat down on the sofa and shook her finger at me playfully.
"Admit, now, that you keep your journeys secret from him.
For what man
would think of allowing a woman with such a wealth of hair to go
in foreign countries? Now, supposing that you lost your purse at
in a snowbound train in North Russia?"
"But I haven't the slightest intention--" I began.
"I don't say that you have. But when you said good-bye to
your dear man I
am positive that you had no intention of coming here. My dear, I
woman of experience, and I know the world. While he is away you
fever in your blood. Your sad heart flies for comfort to these foreign
lands. At home you cannot bear the sight of that empty bed---it
widowhood. Since the death of my dear husband I have never known
"I like empty beds," I protested sleepily, thumping the
"That cannot be true because it is not natural. Every wife
ought to feel
that her place is by her husband's side--sleeping or waking. It
to see that the strongest tie of all does not yet bind you. Wait
little pair of hands stretches across the water--wait until he comes
harbour and sees you with the child at your breast."
I sat up stiffly.
"But I consider child-bearing the most ignominious of all
For a moment there was silence. Then Frau Fischer reached down
"So young and yet to suffer so cruelly," she murmured.
"There is nothing
that sours a woman so terribly as to be left alone without a man,
especially if she is married, for then it is impossible for her
the attention of others--unless she is unfortunately a widow. Of
know that sea-captains are subject to terrible temptations, and
they are as
inflammable as tenor singers--that is why you must present a bright
energetic appearance, and try and make him proud of you when his
This husband that I had created for the benefit of Frau Fischer
her hands so substantial a figure that I could no longer see myself
on a rock with seaweed in my hair, awaiting that phantom ship for
women love to suppose they hunger. Rather I saw myself pushing a
perambulator up the gangway, and counting up the missing buttons
husband's uniform jacket.
"Handfuls of babies, that is what you are really in need of,"
Fischer. "Then, as the father of a family he cannot leave you.
his delight and excitement when he saw you!"
The plan seemed to me something of a risk. To appear suddenly with
handfuls of strange babies is not generally calculated to raise
in the heart of the average British husband. I decided to wreck
conception and send him down somewhere off Cape Horn.
Then the dinner-gong sounded.
"Come up to my room afterwards," said Frau Fischer. "There
is still much
that I must ask you."
She squeezed my hand, but I did not squeeze back.