—Travelers in Europe are like a Washington pie : top layer, and excellent bottom layer, and an excellent filling between. The rich and showy represent the sugar-sprinkled top ; the peasants, workingpeople, and often university students, the lowest tier ; while the common every-day sort of folks, who after all are the people of any country, travel second class, between the two extremes.
American women are not often found in the third - class coupés of the Continent; hence it was with a self-gratulatory sense of independence that, left to my own devices, I determined to travel third class from Nuremberg to Strassburg.
It was a marvelously hot day for Germany, and the clean, hard benches, guiltless of upholstery, were much cooler than the stuffed seats of the other cars. The wideopen windows admitted plenty of air, without cinders or smoke. Plain but tidy sanitary arrangements gave opportunity for bathing face and hands. Plenty of racks for bundles, hats, and umbrellas kept the seats and floor clear of impediments, which is more than can be said of any Pullman car. So much for externals, which, though important, are of little interest as compared with one’s fellow-travelers.
Three peasant women took their seats with quiet dignity, first carefully pulling up their black silk skirts — it was a Fest day — about their waists, and exposing quilted flannel petticoats which were so short as to escape the dusty floor. They were of course bareheaded and barehanded, and it was with genuine satisfaction that I cast hat and gloves aside to keep them company. Each wore a handsome black satin apron, and the youngest a beautiful satin kerchief trimmed with fringe, falling gracefully over her breast where the kerchief crossed, and around the waist line, for the ends were knotted together behind. For jewels, sparkling earrings, brooch, and rings of crystal danced in the sunshine. She was a pretty creature, and it was no wonder that the lad who came to see her off kissed the hand she held out to him in adieu.
There is a constant kaleidoscopic change in third-class carriages. The occupants are rarely bound on long journeys. They go from village to village or to the city on some special errand, so in a ten hours’ trip one sees many faces come and go. Yet to hear the people laugh and chat together, one might think these birds of passage had been always friends. They showed little vulgar curiosity, but a human sort of interest in one another. Their Bavarian German was not always plain to foreign ears, but what the ear failed to catch could often be read in the eyes and heard in the tones.
A young girl got in at a city station, and at once began to eat her luncheon, explaining to the on-lookers that she had had no chance to eat before, for “ there is no restaurant in the lazaretto, and that is where I have been, to see my brother.”
“ Ah, to see your brother. Your brother is then siek ? ” and a sympathetic interest manifested itself among the women who had never seen this girl before.
“ A young officer loaded a gun, and told my brother to shoot sparrows, and the gun burst.”
“ Your brother is soldier, then ? ”
“ Yes, but he will be free now,if he lives,” and she paused to command her voice and to wink back the tears. “One eye is all gone, but when the doctor took the bandage off to-day, he could see with the other. Oh yes, if there comes no inflammation, says the doctor, he will see quite well to make shoes. But my brother, he says, ‘ Better die than to lose two eyes.’ ”
“ Yes, better die,” echoed the peasant listeners, but they asked no more questions.
It was the inquisitive Yankee who unreeled the story of the wounded boy, and learned that he was but twenty-three ; that he had served nearly his three years as soldier after learning a trade ; that he was not married, but “ had a friendship,” though his sweetheart’s father had not consented to the betrothal, but that now, oh yes, now she would be true to him, and she had told her father that she must go to the hospital and see him, and that she would marry no one else though he had but one eye. Oh yes, she was a good girl, she would be true to him. And there was union of Bavarian and American gladness in the fidelity of the peasant sweetheart to her soldier lad.
Later, as the train wound round the hills that skirt the Rhine, from which here and there a castle looked down from the wooded crest, an asylum for the insane was pointed out, and the story was told of a man living near it who had wife and children and ample means. But, said the peasant, he was a bissel leicht; and seeing the interrogative look on one face, at least, she added the blunt explanation that as the result of his frivolous life he became the father of two children whose peasant mothers lived in the neighborhood. His wife’s heart was broken, and he left her, and going to a big city gambled away his property, leaving ber to earn a meagre living for herself and her five children. So the years passed, and at last there came to her a letter from Berlin. Her husband had repented of his evil ways, had begged her forgiveness and permission to return. And as an earnest of that forgiveness she was to send him money to pay his debts and his traveling expenses. If she would do this on such and such a day, she should surely look upon his face. The forgiveness and the money were sent, for she had truly loved him. “ Besides,” added the narrator naïvely, “ I suppose she thought, with five children to raise, it would be nice to have a man to help.”
The day and the hour of his coming drew near. The wife attired herself to meet him, making herself as like the young woman he left as possible. As the hour struck when she was to “ look upon his face,” a messenger arrived, bringing her— “ Denken Sie ! Denken Sie ! seine Photographie ! ” and the little woman who told the story fairly screamed as she recalled this act of perfidy.
The five little ones are cared for now by strangers, and the forgiving wife, smitten suddenly with insanity, is an inmate of the great building among the trees, where the bodies of those are cared for whose minds have wandered away forever into the great unknown.
So the day sped, with many coming and going, always with pretty greetings as they entered and left. Not a rude question was asked of the evident foreigner. One woman only chanced to say, “ You come from a far part of Germany, for your tongue is unlike ours, and you are traveling perhaps as far as Strassburg.”
The temptation to add four thousand miles to that was too great : “ Much farther than that, — to America.”
“To America! Well, that’s a place I would n’t go to if you paid my fare three times in gold ! ” Then turning to the others she triumphantly added, “ Hab’ ’s doch g’sagt sie ’st keine Bäueriu ! ” Plain black skirt, black kerchief crossed on the breast, hat hidden, and gloves pocketed had failed in their disguise !
Sunset colors shot over the land as brilliant as the poppy fields all aflame beside the way. The beautiful color of the corn flower in the grain grew dim in the gathering darkness as the train crept over the bridge that spans the Rhine, and the lofty spire of the Strassburg minster stood out against the evening sky where the new moon was sinking out of sight. It was time to think of some place to lay one’s head. In answer to the question whether such and such a hotel was near the station, one of the humbler women said that if the American lady wanted only a night’s lodging, and would accept a bed under her modest roof, she would be heartily welcome. The touch of nature that “ makes the whole world kin ” can be found, if anywhere, when one travels third class.