From Berlin to Budapest in 1892 (chapter XXII)

Chapter XXII

Into a second we wheeled just at the dinner hour, and in the big hall of the inn where we stopped to dine, some old men, in knee-breeches and short jackets with silver buttons, were gathered round a table singing a long grace. Wherever we went there were always the same operatic groups. But as the day wore on, instead of living up to their clothes and dancing Tyrolese dances on the green, as we expected, they drank in honour of the Virgin, and from every Gasthaus, with a bunch of grapes hanging in front—for we were now in a wine country—came the familiar sound one hears in a London public-house on a Bank Holiday. But the funniest part of it all was that the endless tourists were got up too—were also a part of the big spectacle. There were the cyclists, clubs of half a dozen at a time, in their jerseys and tight knee-breeches and little caps—a contrast to the slouchy Germans—and there were the people in brakes and the people on foot, all in grey and green, doing their best to imitate the peasants. Even the women among them wore the soft Tyrolean hats and bodices. But, whatever their costume, Austrians know how to wear it well; and even here, in the mountains, as later in Vienna, they gave us the impression of a well-dressed nation. It was in the Ennsthal we met them in greatest number, after Admont, with its big cathedral and bishop’s palace and our old friends the rococo statues, when the Enns, which had been flowing quietly through pasture land, leaped down between rocks, and the valley narrowed into a gorge, and between green hills the road brought us nearer and nearer to the big, bare mountains we had been watching all day. People were just coming home from their day’s expedition, many genuine Austrian Tartarins on foot, greyer and greener and more braided and embroidered than the native guides at their sides; many in brakes that rattled by with great jingling of bells. And in a little hollow at the very foot of the steep, bare mountain sides we came suddenly upon a big hotel with a railroad station opposite, and a parlour car waiting on a siding. They were such very superior tourists that we kept on, though it was getting late, and though the valley beyond, where it narrowed again, was already dark. Two or three kilometres farther, we were off our machines and walking. It was now black as night between the mountains. The road was, as it had been all along, atrocious, wandering up and down at abrupt angles, innocent of even a pretence at engineering— no better really than the widened track of primeval man. It was all stones and ruts and mud, except where here and there it had disappeared entirely under the mass of dirt and boulders left by a late- wash-out. It was impossible to ride, and we were still “eirn gute Stunde,” as the last native we met told us, from Hieflau. The rocks rose abruptly to our left, to our right the mountain fell away sheer and steep to the river just below us. Above we could see the fantastic shapes of the peaks, black against the dark blue of the sky. From the rocks came low moanings and whisperings, like ghost voices, and once or twice a dim light went wandering high upon the brow of the precipice. It was uncanny. But what worried me most was the very matter- of-fact and disagreeable chance of meeting holiday-makers on their way home, for by this time every other man in the country was hopelessly drunk. A good hour? It was fully two before the shriek of a passing train made a friendly sound in the wild, lonely valley, before we crossed the railroad and saw a lamp at the window of the little house at the gate. And another weary kilometre or more we tramped before, green and red in the darkness, burned the lights of Hieflau station, and, as if suspended in mid-air, glowed the fiery smoke of two high factory chimneys, while a pale moon was just beginning to shine on the hilltops. Hieflau itself was as dark and silent as the valley; we had to wait for someone to come by to ask our way to the hotel. It was a blessed relief to wheel the machines into the hall. The landlord met us. “We want a room,” we said, and begun to unstrap our knapsacks. “But I have none,” he answered. “Is there another inn in the town?” “No.” “What can we do?” “I can make you a bed in the straw.” This was cheerful. “We had better get something to eat anyway,” Joseph suggested, and we strapped our knapsacks on again, and went into the dining-room. Then Joseph was struck with one of his most brilliant ideas. We would have an adventure—the real one of our journey. It was nonsense to try and sleep in the straw. We would spend the night out of doors, as we had been wanting to do for years. We would find a pretty place in the valley—there would be no trouble to find one lonely enough—and we would wrap ourselves up in all the clothes we had with us, and then we would sleep in the coolness of the night and watch the dawn come, and be very romantic, and lay in a stock of rheumatism for years. But first we must eat and drink heartily: that was very important. We ordered a big supper. We had a bottle of good wine and liqueur with our coffee afterwards. In the meantime more people had been crowding into the dining-room—men in flannel shirts, girls with big white hats, a Jew with a ring in one ear and a feather in his soft felt, boys and children; and the two long tables were full. We had not had the valley to ourselves after all, and it was clear that the landlord had no rooms: at first we thought that it was our appearance he objected to. Perhaps he had, and perhaps now it was the size of our supper which made him think we were good people to have in the house. When we asked for our bill, up he came, and in a low whisper told us that he found he could manage to give us a room, and to follow him. We looked at each other in despair. But we had enough common-sense to know that it would be simple idiocy to sleep in a rain-drenched valley by the riverside when decent beds were at our disposal. But first we asked the price of the room, hoping that by preposterously overcharging us he might still leave us a reasonable excuse to prefer the rocks. But two gulden, under the circumstances, were moderate. Not quite sure of us yet, he made us pay at once, and then he showed us and our bicycles into a large room on the ground floor. And so ended our adventure! When we came out in the morning, the young men were brushing the straw off their clothes and filling their pockets with hard-boiled eggs; the Jew was breakfasting on Kummel and black bread. Again we followed that prehistoric track through the Ennsthal, the hillsides now less precipitous and more pastoral; again we met peasants in holiday dress, for it was Sunday, and tourists and cyclists; again we passed little villages with groups at the inn door and on the church steps. At Weyr, where we lunched, we left the Enns, but with no great regret, for the further we went from it the better became the road, so that we wheeled at a good pace into Waidhofen, with its fine old bridge and castle. And now the mountains lowered, and fell farther away on each side, and it was over a long level stretch, between pine woods, that we rode to Amstatten, where we put up for the night in a big new hotel, with its restaurant in the street. A cyclist from Vienna ate his supper with us, and told us he had passed us in Admont the day before, and that I was the first Frau he had ever seen on a bicycle.

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