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Dawn O'Hara Edna Ferber

The Lady From Vienna

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Two more aborigines have appeared. One of them is a lady aborigine. They made their entrance at supper and I forgot to eat, watching them. The new-comers are from Vienna. He is an expert engineer and she is a woman of noble birth, with a history. Their combined appearance is calculated to strike terror to the heart. He is daringly ugly, with a chin that curves in under his lip and then out in a peak, like pictures of Punch. She wore a gray gown of a style I never had seen before and never expect to see again. It was fastened with huge black buttons all the way down the breathlessly tight front, and the upper part was composed of that pre-historic garment known as a basque. She curved in where she should have curved out, and she bulged where she should have had "lines." About her neck was suspended a string of cannon-ball beads that clanked as she walked. On her forehead rested a sparse fringe.

"Mein Himmel!" thought I. "Am I dreaming? This isn't Wisconsin. This is Nurnberg, or Strassburg, with a dash of Heidelberg and Berlin thrown in. Dawn, old girl, it's going to be more instructive than a Cook's tour."

That turned out to be the truest prophecy I ever made.

The first surprising thing that the new-comers did was to seat themselves at the long table with the other aborigines, the lady aborigine being the only woman among the twelve men. It was plain that they had known one another previous to this meeting, for they became very good friends at once, and the men grew heavily humorous about there being thirteen at table.

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At that the lady aborigine began to laugh. Straightway I forgot the outlandish gown, forgot the cannon-ball beads, forgot the sparse fringe, forgave the absence of "lines." Such a voice! A lilting, melodious thing. She broke into a torrent of speech, with bewildering gestures, and I saw that her hands were exquisitely formed and as expressive as her voice. Her German was the musical tongue of the Viennese, possessing none of the gutturals and sputterings. When she crowned it with the gay little trilling laugh my views on the language underwent a lightning change. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to see her open the flat, silver case that dangled at the end of the cannon-ball chain, take out a cigarette, light it, and smoke it there in that little German dining room. She wore the most gracefully nonchalant air imaginable as she blew little rings and wreaths, and laughed and chatted brightly with her husband and the other men. Occasionally she broke into French, her accent as charmingly perfect as it had been in her native tongue. There was a moment of breathless staring on the part of the respectable middle-class Frauen at the other tables. Then they shrugged their shoulders and plunged into their meal again. There was a certain little high-born air of assurance about that cigarette-smoking that no amount of staring could ruffle.

Watching the new aborigines grew to be a sort of game. The lady aborigine of the golden voice, and the ugly husband of the peaked chin had a strange fascination for me. I scrambled downstairs at meal time in order not to miss them, and I dawdled over the meal so that I need not leave before they. I discovered that when the lady aborigine was animated, her face was that of a young woman, possessing a certain high-bred charm, but that when in repose the face of the lady aborigine was that of a very old and tired woman indeed. Also that her husband bullied her, and that when he did that she looked at him worshipingly.

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Dawn O'Hara
Edna Ferber

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