From Berlin to Budapest in 1892 (chapter VI)

Chapter VI

It was Sunday, and there was no laughter to cheer us by the way. The tiny villages were deserted; the only child we saw was a small boy who threw a hard green apple in front of my safety and was well paid for his pains by Joseph; the only dogs, a few curs—useless members of society who ran barking after us, and not our friends who, harnessed in all sorts of carts, knew what it was to be on the road themselves mid so never Once a parson passed in an open carriage, and over the fields and hills came the sound of distant singing. But church was at an end when we stopped at Gieboldehansen for our second breakfast of black bread and beer, and the hilly streets were crowded when we reached Herzberg, just as the commercial gentlemen were getting up from table at the Weisses Ross, but still not too late for an admirable dinner of several courses admirably served. Let me for once give our bill of fare. Has not Heine recorded what he ate in the Harz! There was soup, and they know how to make soup in Germany; followed by fish; cauliflower and the smoked sausages for which Gottingen is famous ; roast beef and potatoes; cucumber salad and fragrant wild strawberries served together—which seems to an Englishman a trifle-barbarous, but suggests to the American the origin of dishes and combinations in the country at home, where so many customs, borrowed from Germany, survive; blancmange, cheese, and butter and for all this we paid each a mark and twenty-five pfennigs. Now, if you please, fancy in England reaching the average country inn just after the dinner-hour on Sunday. You might consider yourself lucky if there was one of the household not in too much of a hurry for afternoon church to stop and cut you a slice of lukewarm beef and a bit of cheese And yet Germany also is a Protestant country. It may seem to those who have not cycled that I write too much of eating and drinking, but can I help it? A week on the roads had redused—or elevated?—us both to that purely animal condition when our highest thoughts and emotions were for food and drink. Our two meals were the chief events of the day, to which we looked forward eagerly, anti which we remembered tenderly. We eat too much at Herzberg because the dinner was good, and we drank a bottle of capital Rhine wine because it was Sunday. And I remember afterwards, in the cool green valley of the Sieber, riding was such hard work that we sat for long on one of the benches which a kind providence, or municipality, has placed there at intervals: we were in that state of complete physical happiness which he who does not know the healthy appetite born of healthy exercise in the open air cannot understand. The valley of the Sieber is like a beautiful well-kept park. When we started on our way again it was already late in the afternoon, and the light was falling in golden patches on the soft brown carpet of the sweet-scented pine-woods, and now and then the tinkle of cow-bells reminded us that we were in the mountains, for by this time we were well in the Harz. But the groups of people dressed for Sunday whom we met and overtook gave an unexpected town look to the road: it was the Mall of herzberg. In the Sieberthal due tribute was paid to my riding; an elderly gentleman, when I passed, stepped out into the road and, taking off his hat, bowed to the very ground. Joseph said it was sarcasm, but I saw admiration in every feature.Through one village after another we rode, and all were crowded with people and carriages and carts, and now once more the air rang with the familiar laughter of my childlike admirers. I could have laughed with them, so delighted was I to find myself wheeling over a long, if slight, up-grade as merrily as a veteran. Truly, my progress in the art of bicycling was no surprising as it was praiseworthy. But all too soon we left the valley to climb over real hills, long and steep and horrible, each one worse than the last, until we came to the most impossible of all in the main street of Saint Andreasberg. Can I ever forget it? It was steeper than a mansard roof, and went up in a pitiless straight line, and the summer evening was warm. There were grinning faces at every window, but my altruism had flown to the winds. I longed to bring the owners of the faces out and set them all to rolling heavily laden bicycles up the hill: then they would know whether it was a laughing matter. And yet, near the top, when a pigmy waiter in a dress-coat ran down towards me and offered his help, I waved him off—I was too breathless to speak—and myself pushed my safety in the very door of an hotel standing on the brow of a hill, so unmistakably for our benefit that we walked in without looking at its name. We were tired?—Yes. But then it was worth being tired to know the pleasure of the cold sponge and change of flannels that followed; the peace of the quiet walk towards the west, looking over a sea of hills to the far dark heights outlined against the fiery clouds of the after-glow; the comfort of the Late cup of tea in the long dining-room, where little parties sat around the tables, while through the open door we could hear the click of the billiard-balls in the next room and the voices of the players. It was easy to see that Saint Andreasberg was a tourists’ headquarters, though essentially a German one. The hotel was crowded, not with commercials, but with families: there were correct excursions for polite waiters to recommend; and the next morning we saw the sign of “Apartments to let” in every other window—that is, in the upper town, for nothing could have induced us to walk down the bill. We were not to be moved to such a piece of folly even by the landlord’s story of the world-renowned champion, his manly bosom covered with dozens of medals, who lived below, and would welcome us as brothers. He might beat us on every racetrack in Europe, but had he ever, I wonder, pushed a bicycle loaded with knapsacks up the steeps of his native town For this feat we deserved the medal of a hill-climbing record, which there was no one to give us.

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