From Berlin to Budapest in 1892 (chapter III)

Chapter III

Ifelchenbach, which we readied early in the morning of the third day in time for a good shower, was quite the prettiest little town we had as yet come to, with its long street of white and black timbered houses, some with carving, others with inscriptions for ornament, and all with fine big roofs. There were just enough trees in front, just enough flowers in the windows, to give the necessary touch of colour, and the wicker carts and the white cows driven by peasants in blouses, supplied, as the well-trained art critic would say, the human interest to the picture. The whole story of that third day out is told when I say that it was spent in climbing hills and trying to dodge showers. but only the cyclist, I think, really knows what an intense pleasure is to be had in a hilly country which more than repays the toil and tediousness of pushing one’s machine over the long up-grades. We had now in good earnest come to the mountains our Cologne friend had feelingly warned us against, and all day we were looking off from high places over near hillsides of clover and wheat to far misty heights, like blue shadows on the horizon ; and if it rained, it only helped us to see more of the people we were beginning to like so well. For one downpour sent us into a country hotel, where large, blonde gentlemen were disporting themselves in those strange double-breasted light green coats with darker green trimmings, a cross between a military uniform and a smoking jacket, which the Englishman or American would never have sufficient childlike simplicity to wear; and a second drove us into a tiny village inn, where the black bread and beer seemed the most delicious meal I had ever eaten, and where the landlady mending stockings, and a neighbour with a baby, and a stray carter sat and talked with us and told us about their many friends and relations in America. Only the last rain of all I resented; after we left the little inn and our friends there, we were speedily caught in another storm. Hut then the sun came out and dried us off comfortably, and I emptied the puddles out of my macintosh and put it away. The hill country, with its great stretches of rich woodland, was getting more beautiful every kilometre; there was an effective rainbow, and the whole land was golden in the late afternoon light, when a turn in the road, now running between orchards, showed us Battenberg, picturesquely set upon a hilltop of its own. If Joseph had not stopped to make a sketch, perhaps things might still have gone well with us; as it was, just as we reached the first houses facing its hilly street the heavens opened and emptied themselves upon us. It was a short walk to the hotel, but by the time we reached it we were drenched to the skin. It would be more discreet not to describe the costumes in which, in our own bed-room and by the light of a most pretentious lamp, we ate our beefsteak and the poached egg which the German thinks as indispensable an accompaniment to it as in the English mind green peas are to duck. I do not know why it should be thought petty-minded to talk about the dinners and breakfasts eaten on a journey and the prices paid for them. What could be more instructive to the traveller than the comparative study of dinners and bills? Does not the fact that in France you can eat and drink better for less money than in any other civilised land explain the Frenchman’s whole theory of life? I would not, therefore, do justice to the little town of Battenberg if I did not say that in the morning we paid just six marks—that is six shillings—for our room, the best in the best hotel in the place—and if pigs grunted vigorously below our window it was the neighbours’ fault, not the proprietor’s—for our two excellent suppers eaten by the light of that pretentious lamp, and for our morning’s coffee, to which a considerate landlady had added jam. Besides, our clothes had been carefully dried and brushed, and even mended. If this was what the German from Manchester called cheating the foreigner, why, then, even we could afford to be cheated! It was raining when we got up; the little maid said, with resignation, that it always rained in Battonberg, and we had no reason to doubt her word. However, the sun came out in time to give us a chance to walk, dry and clean, through the town, which looks like a page out of a German picture-book, with its big gabled toy-houses running up and down a straggling street. It is seen at its finest from the river winding through the broad pasture-land below, for on this side its hill, well wooded, rises quite abruptly, and Battenberg is perched on the very summit. One of the good points of cycling is that it seems more delightful the longer one rides. Since it is the fashion nowadays to take the public into one’s confidence about the most personal trifles, I will confess that I am never quite in the humour for it when I start on a long cycling journey. The worst of civilisation is that it fills one with civilised prejudices—against living in one’s knapsack, for example. But once on the road, the old love of wandering and adventure asserts itself; the old love of motion, of going over a fair road under the open sky, comes back with full force. And now with every day I was feeling more and more at home on my bicycle, which was fast overcoming its unprincipled waywardness. But the pleasure I took in my riding was absolutely nothing to the pleasure it gave to others. A circus parade, a Lord Mayor’s Show, was never a greater success as a spectacle. That familiar loud laugh, rude and boisterous as the London rough’s, followed me wherever I went. When, while Joseph rode easily and gaily yards ahead, I was bent double working on a slight up-grade, or when the rain was flowing in little streams from my hat, and the mud was spurting in little geysers over my skirts, then it irritated me beyond words. But when I was conscious of riding my best, and the road was good, and my heart light, I could afford to laugh in my turn. Indeed, it made me feel somehow as if I were the very incarnation of altruism, and had brought my bicycle to Germany for no other reason than to please the peasants and children. I thought of applying to Mr. Walter Besant and Mr. Barnett, and taking out a patent as a perambulating Palace of Delight; for, if amusement is what is needed to lighten the people’s life of toil, then certainly I was of far more use to them than St. Jude’s School-house, or even the big palace in the Mile-End Road. As my capacity for enjoyment increased, there seemed to be more by the way to enjoy. Now in the villages there was a touch of costume in the bodices of the women, while the towns through which we passed were as picturesque and full of character as the German cities of our imagination. We were less enthusiastic about Battenberg when we came in an hour or so to Frankenberg. It, too, had its hill; but here the top, an Alpine-like path leading to it, was crowned by a lovely old church and chapel, with proportions as graceful and perfect as the modem decorations of the interior were hideous, and filled with delightful old statues of queer-looking saints and angels. And then there was a great square surrounded by gables and overhanging storeys and enormous roofs, here and there a turret, and, on one side, the townhall, with unusually fine ironwork over the windows. Though we wandered up and down many streets, we did not come to one new house, and of the old houses no two were alike. Between Frankenberg and Wildungen we had our one unpleasant experience of the day. It was in the inn of the little village of Geisinar, where we would not have stopped but for the rain—as usual.

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