From Berlin to Budapest in 1892 (chapter XXI)

Chapter XXI

The next morning there was a good deal about St. Gilgen to remind us of the Scottish Highlands—the grey and drear and rain-driven lake our window’s overlooked; the pleasure parties starting out in macintoshes and under umbrellas; the young men on make-believe walking tours and the young women ready to flirt with them: the people from town masquerading in the dress of the country—not kilts and Tam-o’-Shanters, but no less theatrical Tyrolese knee-breeches, short jackets, and feathered soft hats, all striped and bound and braided with green; and the amiable landlord, with advice and fine weather forecasts and a hearty handshake for everyone, except the preposterously rude Herr Graf, who, with his liveried servants, tried to monopolise the hotel, and for whom, therefore, were obsequious bows. Scotch-like, too, was our own start in a fine Scotch mist, and our ride, skirting the lake in alternate sunshine and shower; but not the roadside shrines, the tablets and pictures commemorating miraculous escapes of lone wayfarers; not the pretty old mill worked by horses driven round and round by a boy in a curious swinging seat; not the many benches for the convenience of tourists whose mountaineering enterprise ceased with their dress. At Strobl a dismal party with umbrellas raised were sitting on the deck of a little steam boat at the pier, bound for the excursion up the lake, though rain poured and clouds blotted out the near mountain sides. Just so have I seen tourists set out for a day’s excursion in Mull and Skye. There are Scotchmen who have never forgiven us because we once ventured to say that it rains sometimes in the Highlands; Austrians themselves admit that it never does anything else in the Salzkammergut. We dried off over a good breakfast in a tiny inn, the Pole having tabooed the hotel at Strobl, which, he said, was bad and clear: we got wet again in time to ride, dripping and sloshing, into Ischl. No wonder that the royal horses took fright and almost ran off and spilled the Empress of Austria; no wonder that we made a sensation in the cafe where we drank coffee. I was relieved afterwards, when everyone—waiters and loungers alike—came out into the street to see us mount, that I did not show them how much easier it was to land in the mud than in the saddle. We had gone about ten kilometres from Ischl when I heard behind me a crash and a thud ; I turned, and there were the Pole and his machine clinging to each other in the mud. “Tis nothing! ” he cried. But he had been so amiable the day before in picking me up when I had taken a gutter by mistake that I got down and went to him. He had broken his Pedal pin. Joseph, who, as always, was far ahead, missed us, thought something awful had happened to me, and came back full tilt. We held a consultation there in the mud where; he had fallen, coachmen and footmen in the passing carriages smiling down upon us in supercilious sympathy. However, there was nothing for him to do but to go to Ischl or hunt up a blacksmith in the last village. We did not say good-bye. With ‘his imperturbable good spirits he declared he would catch a late train and join us at Aussee, where we were to spend the night. And so Joseph and I rode on alone between the poplars, and through the little hilly villages, where flat roofs gave way to gables; now and then getting down to walk, or to look nearer at the life-size painted figures in the small chapels opening upon the road—one representing the Saviour carrying his cross, with Turks for executioners. It was only between Ischl and Aussee that we found these very striking groups, so like the more famous statues of the Italian Alps. It would have been wiser not to linger. It was getting late when we reached Agatha, and the road began to climb, not a hill, but a precipice. We pushed our machines resolutely up for live minutes, then we stopped for breath. Joseph got his first “I’m going back to Ischl,” he said, “and I’m going to take the train for Vienna. This sort of thing don’t pay, and I ve had about enough of it.” So had I, but a woman with a baby and a man with a pipe volunteered the information that in a very few minutes we would be at the top, and we went on. For a little while the road was at least less precipitous, and a-tramp we overtook assured us that in a very few moments more it began to go down. Of course, it did not, and on we pushed and panted, now between dense pine woods. We met a guard with a gun slung across his back: about fifteen minutes still, he told us, we must walk; after that it was all easy going. He was wrong too. But then the last thing to be expected of the average man is that he should know anything about his own country. The road just kept on scaling that precipice, with an occasional little break, or, what we would call at home, a “thank-you-Ma’am” I saw nothing but my machine except when we stood to take breath and to wipe the perspiration from our faces. Then, once I looked down through a clearing in the wood to a beautiful wide lake below; at other times, on both sides stretched the forest. The farther up we went, the lower fell the sun; we were still climbing when the afterglow deepened into twilight. And now we met no one. For all we knew there might be highwaymen and assassins and all sorts of dangers in the woods here, as the roadside pictures showed there were in the hills near Salzburg. We ought to have stayed with the Pole: he carried a pistol in his bag and a whip on his handle-bar. We had not even a good-sized spanner. When the road at last began to go down, it was worse than ever trying to back-pedal over ruts and mud in the darkness. Presently two men passed, but they were drunk, and wanted to steady themselves by grabbing our machine’s and could tell us nothing. I was wretchedly tired, and ready to stop at the first cottage. Joseph was for pushing on to Aussee; the Pole, he said, would be waiting for us. “And what if he was?” I asked. I think under the cover of night I shed a few tears. Joseph insisted that it was easier to ride on a bad road in the dark, and begged me to come on. But I knew that it was not, and I walked. How far we had gone I hardly know, when we came to a solitary house directly on the road, with lights in the window. Out of pity for me Joseph got down, and knocked at the door. It was an inn, and the landlady, before she saw me, told him he could have a room for two people for eighty kreutzers. Had she known it was a poor, weary woman waiting for him outside, probably she would have charged double. We thought this inn our discovery, it was so primitive and simple, all but the price of ham at supper, which cost us twice as much as our beds. But there was a dining-room with great rafters, and benches and tables of delightful design around the walls; there was a little maid, pattering about in bare feet, to wait on us; there were peasants, who looked as if they had strayed out of an opera chorus, smoking together, in a walled-in balcony, and upstairs there was for us a bedroom on the other side of a large chamber, with huge presses flanking the door; and we were, the only guests. But in the morning we found another larger dining-room enclosed in glass, with tariffs and time-tables hanging on the walls, and a visitors’ book, with page’s of closely written names. It was really a mere appendage to Ischl. Its picturesqueness was all “got up” for the benefit of the tourist. But the whole country, as we rode on, had this air of being got up, turned into a big show or spectacle, like Tartarin’s Alps. It.was Saturday Aug 25, the Feast of tile Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and therefore a holiday. As we rode down into Aussee, we met the peasants on their way to church—the men in knee-breeches, short jackets, and soft hats, now braided with gold and embroidered with green, the women in bright skirts (some of silk) and big black handkerchiefs over their heads. In Aussee, where we went to the hotel to find our friend the Pole, who, however, had not as yet appeared, people, in the same costumes that smelt so strongly of the stage, were arranged in approved operatic groups in the street and in the hotel dining-room below stairs, where they began their pious celebrations with a bottle of wine, while we drank our second coffee. And so it was all along the road and in the many villages into which we climbed or coasted. One we reached just in time for Mass, and around the church, which stood on a little hill above the main street, knelt the people, the men on one side, the women on the other.

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