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Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

Steeped In German

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The thunder of conversation went on as before. But there was no bloodshed. Nothing but men and women sitting at small tables, eating and talking. When I say eating and talking I do not mean that those acts were carried on separately. Not at all. The eating and the talking went on simultaneously, neither interrupting the other. A fork full of food and a mouthful of ten-syllabled German words met, wrestled, and passed one another, unscathed. I stood in the doorway, fascinated, until Herr Knapf spied me, took a nimble skip in my direction, twisted the discouraged mustaches into temporary sprightliness, and waved me toward a table in the center of the room.

Then a frightful thing happened. When I think of it now I turn cold. The battery was not that of women's eyes, but of men's. And conversation ceased! The uproar and the booming of vowels was hushed. The silence was appalling. I looked up in horror to find that what seemed to be millions of staring blue eyes were fixed on me. The stillness was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. Such men! Immediately I dubbed them the aborigines, and prayed that I might find adjectives with which to describe their foreheads.

It appeared that the aborigines were especially favored in that they were all placed at one long, untidy table at the head of the room. The rest of us sat at small tables. Later I learned that they were all engineers. At meals they discuss engineering problems in the most awe-inspiring German. After supper they smoke impossible German pipes and dozens of cigarettes. They have bulging, knobby foreheads and bristling pompadours, and some of the rawest of them wear wild-looking beards, and thick spectacles, and cravats and trousers that Lew Fields never even dreamed of. They are all graduates of high-sounding foreign universities and are horribly learned and brilliant, but they are the worst mannered lot I ever saw.

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In the silence that followed my entrance a red-cheeked maid approached me and asked what I would have for supper. Supper? I asked. Was not dinner served in the evening? The aborigines nudged each other and sniggered like fiendish little school-boys.

The red-cheeked maid looked at me pityingly. Dinner was served in the middle of the day, naturlich. For supper there was Wienerschnitzel, and kalter Aufschnitt, also Kartoffel Salat, and fresh Kaffeekuchen.

The room hung breathless on my decision. I wrestled with a horrible desire to shriek and run. Instead I managed to mumble an order. The aborigines turned to one another inquiringly.

"Was hat sie gesagt?" they asked. "What did she say?" Whereupon they fell to discussing my hair and teeth and eyes and complexion in German as crammed with adjectives as was the rye bread over which I was choking with caraway. The entire table watched me with wide-eyed, unabashed interest while I ate, and I advanced by quick stages from red-faced confusion to purple mirth. It appeared that my presence was the ground for a heavy German joke in connection with the youngest of the aborigines. He was a very plump and greasy looking aborigine with a doll-like rosiness of cheek and a scared and bristling pompadour and very small pig-eyes. The other aborigines clapped him on the back and roared:

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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