Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > German
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XII: German
 
In Society
By Julius Stinde (1841–1905)
 
From “The Buchholz Family”

AS our invitation to the Lehmanns’ party was for half past eight o’clock, we started a little before ten, and arrived in very good time; for the grander an evening is to be, the more abominably late the guests appear. We were far from being the last to arrive, but his old Excellency was already there, and, to a certain extent, formed the brilliant center of light, owing to his bald head and his numerous decorations. We were presented to him at once, and his Excellency expressed himself as being very pleased to have the privilege of making our acquaintance. Whereupon I replied, with the most formal of courtesies and visible solemnity, that the privilege was all on our side. By so doing I wished him to see that, although we belonged only to the middle class, we were by no means overawed by Excellencies. His Excellency then entered upon a long talk with my Karl about business in general, which I considered wanting in tact, as he might have known that ladies took no great interest in such subjects. I moved away, therefore, with a less deep but well-measured courtesy, and amused myself by watching the other guests. The number of persons the Lehmanns had invited was endless. To remember them all one would need to have been born with a memory the size of an omnibus.
  1
  The only people I knew were the Hamburg doctor and his charming young wife, who was dressed in gray silk dotted over with rose buds, and cut à la Marie Antoinette, which suited her to perfection. Betti had been at once taken possession of by two lieutenants, and was engaged in conversation with them. Emmi, on the other hand, felt drawn to the wife of the Hamburg doctor, and I must confess that, although young girls may be charming, young wives are far more bewitching. There seems so much depth of feeling about them.  2
  After a time I found myself near the seats of honor, namely, round about the sofa where the elderly and most voluminous ladies made a solemn impression by their very dignified appearance and the brand-new ribbons of their caps. Tea was taken without so much as the whisper of a word, and with it there were handed round a fruit tart and small narrow knives to eat it with.  3
  What was there to talk about? All of us being perfect strangers to one another, none, of course, cared to open their mouths with a remark about the weather; then one doesn’t seem to know enough about the theaters; and household affairs are naturally too inferior a subject for the occasion. Guests were, moreover, still coming in, and the crush was so great one might have supposed the Lehmanns had annexed the waiting-room of a railway station, and that some official would presently be ringing a bell and calling out, “Take your seats, please!” I kept thinking to myself, “I wonder what’s to happen next. If we had been in the Landsberger Strasse we should all long since have been sitting round the supper-table, and would have known why we had been invited.”  4
  The room was now crammed full, and I was secretly beginning to denounce the season and these fashionable gatherings, when some one began to play on the piano. The Lehmanns had managed to secure the services of a youth from one of the conservatories; he wore huge linen cuffs, three pairs to the dozen. The youth attacked Mozart, and the audience, too, with a terrific banging. This roused the canary out of its sleep, and it forthwith began singing at the top of its voice, and utterly drowned the music that followed. In fact the musical entertainment could not be continued till the bird’s cage had been covered over. A young lady then rose and filled the room with her shouting. Of harmony, in my opinion, there was no trace, but the effect was all the more melancholy. As soon as the applause ceased, she commenced a second performance. It was of the same doleful color, enough to give a drill-sergeant the blues. When the accompanist had wrung out a few dire chords by way of conclusion, I said to the lady on my right:  5
  “There, now, the second child’s dead too!”  6
  “Whatever do you mean?” she asked.  7
  “Oh,” I replied, “that’s what we say when a mournful piece of music comes to an end.”  8
  “It was my daughter that was singing,” she retorted with asperity, and turned her back upon me.  9
  In order to show her that her behavior had left me perfectly cool and indifferent, I turned to the lady on my left, and endeavored to start a conversation with her. I began by speaking of a flaxen-haired youth, above life-size, who had at that moment entered the room, and seemed a fitting subject for remark.  10
  “What kind of genius is that, I wonder?” said I.  11
  “Whom do you refer to?” replied the lady.  12
  “That very long young man standing there at the door,” said I; “you just wait and see if he doesn’t make some mischief.”  13
  “I am not aware that my son has given you any reason for such a remark,” she answered snappishly.  14
  “Pardon me for ever being born,” I replied, remembering that what one calls out into a wood, the echo brings back.  15
  I vowed to myself not to utter a single word more, as I could not possibly know in what relation all these people, whom the Lehmanns had collected in honor of his Excellency, stood to one another; so I allowed my thoughts to speculate about the ways of fashionable society. From these gloomy reflections I was fortunately aroused by supper being announced.  16
  In the next room, which had been kept locked all the evening, a side table had been arranged with all possible kinds of eatables, and presented a very inviting appearance when the doors were thrown open. The gentlemen hurried in, and gallantly attended to the ladies. Those ladies, however, who had no special gentlemen to attend to them, and who did not choose to push themselves forward, got nothing. I was among the last to reach the table, and succeeded only in snatching hold of a small dessert-plate and a knife and fork; at the same time I saw that all such dainties as caviare, goose-liver paste, and chicken had already vanished. Of the turkey nothing was left but the skeleton, and of the fillet of veal only the mark on the dish where it had been. There was, however, still some Italian salad to be had, also some cold sliced meat, which, upon closer inspection, proved to be American tinned meat and Brunswick sausage. The jellies, too, had scarcely been touched. I took a small helping of what was left, and while eating it in discomfort in the midst of a standing crowd, it struck me that one needed experience in this kind of stand-up supper, as not a soul thought of inviting one to take anything; in fact, the whole proceeding seemed to me a kind of murderous attack, and so I secretly envied the sublieutenants who had been in front of the battle. Betti told me afterward that her lieutenant had brought her a delicious bit of chicken breast, while he had preferred venison with a goodly supply of caviare. The younger folks had, it seemed, been making engagements with one another, as there was to be dancing later. The Lehmanns thought it better taste to let his Excellency depart first, so there was a little delay. Wine and punch were handed round, and this brought more life into the conversation. His Excellency was meanwhile standing beneath the chandelier, holding a kind of audience.  17
  Earlier in the evening I had stated that that unusually tall young man would be likely to create trouble, and I proved to be right. When I have a presentiment of anything, it always comes true, and, moreover, so precisely like what I imagine, that I should assuredly have been anointed a prophet had I lived in the Old Testament times.  18
  All of a sudden a fluttering, flapping noise passed through the rooms, and it very soon turned out that the canary had escaped. The young man just mentioned, having nothing better to do, no doubt meant merely to amuse himself with the little creature, but his huge, awkward hands must have so bent the cage-door that it would not close again.  19
  What a fuss they made trying to catch that bird! Several brooms and a pair of steps were fetched, and an endeavor was made to drive the creature into the adjoining room so as to catch it if it were to settle on the cornice. The bird, however, would neither go into the next room nor on to the cornice. The chase became more and more eager and determined, and the bird became the more bewildered. The young man who had caused the mischief took part in the chase, and in this way tried to make up for his awkwardness; but just as he was about to make a very vehement thrust with a broom, as if he were playing billiards in the air, he accidentally struck the glass chandelier beneath which his Excellency was standing, and fragments of glass came pouring down upon his Excellency’s shining pate.  20
  Although his Excellency was in no way injured, he at once intimated a wish to withdraw, and thus left the company which harbored so dangerous an individual. This greatly distressed the Lehmanns, who seemed quite to lose their heads. They accompanied his Excellency to the door, and the Hamburg doctor meanwhile caught the bird, and the dancing commenced. The young people enjoyed themselves immensely, as usual on such occasions, but I did not breathe freely till we were on our way home in a second-class cab, leaving the stifling heat, the badly arranged refreshments, and the host of people to whom we were utterly indifferent, behind us.  21
  When we reached home, my Karl said, “Wilhelmine, if you feel as I do, you’d butter us some bread, and let us have a couple of bottles of wine. I’m quite hungry.”  22
  “That’s just how I feel,” I answered.  23
  So there we sat down, at three o’clock of a dark winter’s morning, in a cold room with ice on the windows, and refreshed ourselves after all the hardships we had endured.  24
 
 
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