In A German Pension by Katherine Mansfield

Wednesday , 1, July 2020 Leave a comment

GERMANS AT MEAT.

Bread soup was placed upon the table. “Ah,” said the Herr Rat, leaning
upon the table as he peered into the tureen, “that is what I need. My
‘magen’ has not been in order for several days. Bread soup, and just the
right consistency. I am a good cook myself”–he turned to me.

“How interesting,” I said, attempting to infuse just the right amount of
enthusiasm into my voice.

“Oh yes–when one is not married it is necessary. As for me, I have had
all I wanted from women without marriage.” He tucked his napkin into his
collar and blew upon his soup as he spoke. “Now at nine o’clock I make
myself an English breakfast, but not much. Four slices of bread, two eggs,
two slices of cold ham, one plate of soup, two cups of tea–that is nothing
to you.”

He asserted the fact so vehemently that I had not the courage to refute it.

All eyes were suddenly turned upon me. I felt I was bearing the burden of
the nation’s preposterous breakfast–I who drank a cup of coffee while
buttoning my blouse in the morning.

“Nothing at all,” cried Herr Hoffmann from Berlin. “Ach, when I was in
England in the morning I used to eat.”

He turned up his eyes and his moustache, wiping the soup drippings from his
coat and waistcoat.

“Do they really eat so much?” asked Fraulein Stiegelauer. “Soup and
baker’s bread and pig’s flesh, and tea and coffee and stewed fruit, and
honey and eggs, and cold fish and kidneys, and hot fish and liver? All the
ladies eat, too, especially the ladies.”

“Certainly. I myself have noticed it, when I was living in a hotel in
Leicester Square,” cried the Herr Rat. “It was a good hotel, but they
could not make tea–now–”

“Ah, that’s one thing I CAN do,” said I, laughing brightly. “I can make
very good tea. The great secret is to warm the teapot.”

“Warm the teapot,” interrupted the Herr Rat, pushing away his soup plate.
“What do you warm the teapot for? Ha! ha! that’s very good! One does not
eat the teapot, I suppose?”

He fixed his cold blue eyes upon me with an expression which suggested a
thousand premeditated invasions.

“So that is the great secret of your English tea? All you do is to warm
the teapot.”

I wanted to say that was only the preliminary canter, but could not
translate it, and so was silent.

The servant brought in veal, with sauerkraut and potatoes.

“I eat sauerkraut with great pleasure,” said the Traveller from North
Germany, “but now I have eaten so much of it that I cannot retain it. I am
immediately forced to–”

“A beautiful day,” I cried, turning to Fraulein Stiegelauer. “Did you get
up early?”

“At five o’clock I walked for ten minutes in the wet grass. Again in bed.
At half-past five I fell asleep, and woke at seven, when I made an
‘overbody’ washing! Again in bed. At eight o’clock I had a cold-water
poultice, and at half past eight I drank a cup of mint tea. At nine I
drank some malt coffee, and began my ‘cure.’ Pass me the sauerkraut,
please. You do not eat it?”

“No, thank you. I still find it a little strong.”

“Is it true,” asked the Widow, picking her teeth with a hairpin as she
spoke, “that you are a vegetarian?”

“Why, yes; I have not eaten meat for three years.”

“Im–possible! Have you any family?”

“No.”

“There now, you see, that’s what you’re coming to! Who ever heard of
having children upon vegetables? It is not possible. But you never have
large families in England now; I suppose you are too busy with your
suffragetting. Now I have had nine children, and they are all alive, thank
God. Fine, healthy babies–though after the first one was born I had to–”

“How WONDERFUL!” I cried.

“Wonderful,” said the Widow contemptuously, replacing the hairpin in the
knob which was balanced on the top of her head. “Not at all! A friend of
mine had four at the same time. Her husband was so pleased he gave a
supper-party and had them placed on the table. Of course she was very
proud.”

“Germany,” boomed the Traveller, biting round a potato which he had speared
with his knife, “is the home of the Family.”

Followed an appreciative silence.

The dishes were changed for beef, red currants and spinach. They wiped
their forks upon black bread and started again.

“How long are you remaining here?” asked the Herr Rat.

“I do not know exactly. I must be back in London in September.”

“Of course you will visit Munchen?”

“I am afraid I shall not have time. You see, it is important not to break
into my ‘cure.'”

“But you MUST go to Munchen. You have not seen Germany if you have not
been to Munchen. All the Exhibitions, all the Art and Soul life of Germany
are in Munchen. There is the Wagner Festival in August, and Mozart and a
Japanese collection of pictures–and there is the beer! You do not know
what good beer is until you have been to Munchen. Why, I see fine ladies
every afternoon, but fine ladies, I tell you, drinking glasses so high.”
He measured a good washstand pitcher in height, and I smiled.

“If I drink a great deal of Munchen beer I sweat so,” said Herr Hoffmann.
“When I am here, in the fields or before my baths, I sweat, but I enjoy it;
but in the town it is not at all the same thing.”

Prompted by the thought, he wiped his neck and face with his dinner napkin
and carefully cleaned his ears.

A glass dish of stewed apricots was placed upon the table.

“Ah, fruit!” said Fraulein Stiegelauer, “that is so necessary to health.
The doctor told me this morning that the more fruit I could eat the
better.”

She very obviously followed the advice.

Said the Traveller: “I suppose you are frightened of an invasion, too, eh?
Oh, that’s good. I’ve been reading all about your English play in a
newspaper. Did you see it?”

“Yes.” I sat upright. “I assure you we are not afraid.”

“Well, then, you ought to be,” said the Herr Rat. “You have got no army at
all–a few little boys with their veins full of nicotine poisoning.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Herr Hoffmann said. “We don’t want England. If we did
we would have had her long ago. We really do not want you.”

He waved his spoon airily, looking across at me as though I were a little
child whom he would keep or dismiss as he pleased.

“We certainly do not want Germany,” I said.

“This morning I took a half bath. Then this afternoon I must take a knee
bath and an arm bath,” volunteered the Herr Rat; “then I do my exercises
for an hour, and my work is over. A glass of wine and a couple of rolls
with some sardines–”

They were handed cherry cake with whipped cream.

“What is your husband’s favourite meat?” asked the Widow.

“I really do not know,” I answered.

“You really do not know? How long have you been married?”

“Three years.”

“But you cannot be in earnest! You would not have kept house as his wife
for a week without knowing that fact.”

“I really never asked him; he is not at all particular about his food.”

A pause. They all looked at me, shaking their heads, their mouths full of
cherry stones.

“No wonder there is a repetition in England of that dreadful state of
things in Paris,” said the Widow, folding her dinner napkin. “How can a
woman expect to keep her husband if she does not know his favourite food
after three years?”

“Mahlzeit!”

“Mahlzeit!”

I closed the door after me.

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