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At The Sign Of The Savage
by [?]

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 waistcoats.

“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 more.”

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’hote, 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.