From Berlin to Budapest in 1892 (chapter IX)

Chapter IX

I have told Joseph’s story of his adventures by the way; now I must tell mine. There was little pleasure in the latter part of my journey to Berlin. For when the train steamed out of the Potsdam station, from the carriage window I saw my bicycle alone and unprotected on the platform, where It had no business to be. The guard, to whom I appealed by showing my receipt, managed to explain that I should find it in the Potsdamer Bahnhof in Berlin, but that could not keep me from worrying for the rest of the way, while I pictured myself bicycleless and forlorn. I, in my turn, was deposited in some unknown station on what seemed the outskirts of the city. I asked the porter, who under protest, as it were, took my knapsack, to call me a cab; the Hotel Bellevue, to which we had decided to go, fortunately being in the Potsdamer Platz, close to the station of the same name. That he understood shows how carefully I had studied my phrase-book since our adventure at Cologne. He looked at me a minute a look that took me in from head to foot—and then he said that there was a horse-car which went in my direction, and which would be much cheaper. Whatever I had thought of my shabbiness before, there could be no doubt of it now. I have my little economies, but this did not seem the time to weigh the difference between a mark and a pfennig. To present myself at the hotel in my rags alone, and without the machine to account for them, was bad enough, but to arrive on foot, or to jump out of a horse-car at the front door with a muddy knapsack in my hand—no, that was quite out of the question. If the student is the most amusing product of Germany, the hotel porter is the most useful. He is an impressive creature in gold braid and buttons, and usually many rings on his fingers, and the best you hope from him is a little mildness in his snub. But he is amiability itself. He never loses his temper, though it is his special duty to answer every question on every subject from every traveller from morning till night. He is a mine of information. There is not anything he does not know, mid he talks all civilised languages under the sun, apparently with equal ease. He is quite, a genius, a universal provider of facts, and yet the mark you offer with diffidence he accepts with alacrity. I suppose the gorgeous person I see in the hall of the Grand or the Metropole belongs to the same species. But, then, we would never dare to ask him a question or give him anything less than a sovereign, and as we cannot afford this, we have always steered clear of him. At the Hotel Bellevue the porter received me with the discernment of his kind, and, outwardly at least, never once questioned my respectability. To repay him for his confidence, I sent at once for a large bag we had forwarded by express, threw off my rags and came downstairs, looking somewhat creased and rumpled, but still, though I say it myself, far more presentable. Outside, in the large Potsdamer Platz, men were selling red carnations, and the bunch which I bought and stuck in my belt seemed to complete the transformation. I felt that I had once more returned to civilised life. My bicycle I found at the station none the worse for its in independent journey, for there seems to be a kind Providence that watches over riderless machines; and, these matters being attended to, and Joseph arriving in the course of the evening, we settled down to the chief business which detained us in Berlin. This was to buy me a new gown. No woman knows what, a serious and solemn thing a new gown is until she has bicycled. On a tricycle you can wear anything, provided it is appropriate and substantial. And so it was in “ anything”— by chance, it was an old river dress—that I started on my bicycle. I could tell a harrowing tale of the disasters that followed. My skirts, blowing gracefully in the breeze, were wound up in the spokes of the wheel, wore themselves into holes, and brought me in pain and sorrow to the ground. The lining and the innocent little pleating at the bottom caught in the projecting points of the pedals, were ripped off In yards, and strewn in bits on the road from Cologne to Berlin. I had my dress shortened in Bruges, the points filed down from my pedals in a nameless roadside village, but it was no use my skirts still caught, and all my leisure minutes were spent needle and thread in hand. Naturally, while on the road, we both thought a great deal about my gown—too much, indeed. But the result of our study was that in Berlin we ordered the perfect dress. .Joseph, upon whose nerves my troubles were beginning to tell, was its inventor. I am afraid there is no chance of his patenting it, but I can at least give him the credit he deserves. From one year’s end to another the chances are he knows nothing of the colour or cut of my clothes; but now he took matters in his own hands, went boldly into a shop in Unter den linden, selected the material, and in execrable German gave all the directions. men invariably make the best dressmakers. Worth and Redfern—could you ask for better? Joseph’s dress—that is, mine-was a triumph. As I hope I have a few women among my readers, I will describe it, that they may profit by his cleverness. The skirt was without foundation, without pleats or ruffles; it had no hem or lining on the inside, no unnecessary fullness in the back. Whatever snares the bicycle-maker might lay for it in the way of points and unguarded wheels, there was absolutely nothing to catch. It was the ordinary length; I could wear it in the street and pass unnoticed. But, and this was its great feature, by a system of hooks and eyes, simple enough to be understood by a child, just before I got on the machine I could shorten it so that it only reached my ankles. You see the advantage. My blouse and jacket were like all others, since, Joseph’s powers of design had been exhausted upon the skirt. As a still further preventive against accidents, we sent the machine to a cycle shop and had another piece of leather added to the dress-guard, so that the entire upper half of the wheel was covered. And now a last word upon this important subject: let no woman who bicycles, as she values her life, wear a dress with inner lining or hem, or superfluous folds and drapery; let her refuse to be satisfied with the miserable section of a dress-guard, which the average cycle-maker will assure her is all-sufficient. Our time was not entirely given to dress designing. There were intervals when we saw much of Berlin, surely the most provincial capital in Europe. Not even the multitudes of gorgeous and immaculate officers —blonde, big, and insolent— not even the endless march of soldiers, not even the collection of palaces and museums, or the gaiety of Bauer’s and the Bellevue Cafe could give it the air of a great city, the centre of an empire. I think we did most of the correct things. I know that we went to all the galleries, old and new, and looked at so many pictures that, with the Royal Academy and the Salons fresh in our memory, we felt that the man who added one more to the world’s collection would be the lowest of criminals, the enemy of the people. We lost our way in the Thier- garten, and spent our evenings at Kroll’s. We shopped in Unter den Linden—to compare it to the boulevards of Paris is sacrilege in the near streets and in the arcades where we looked upon the Master—I mean Ibsen—in wax and in stone and in oils: clearly Ibsenism flourishes in Berlin. We had enormously good dinners given to us at Uhl’s and Hiller’s, and we were interviewed that we might know our arrival as correspondents of the Illustrated London News in the capital to be an event, and that we might learn what a very pleasant function interviewing may be made.

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