Read CHAPTER XX of Their Silver Wedding Journey‚ Part I., free online book, by William Dean Howells, on ReadCentral.com.

On one hand their windows looked toward a basin of the Elbe, where stately white swans were sailing; and on the other to the new Rathhaus, over the trees that deeply shaded the perennial mud of a cold, dim public garden, where water-proof old women and impervious nurses sat, and children played in the long twilight of the sour, rain-soaked summer of the fatherland.  It was all picturesque, and within-doors there was the novelty of the meagre carpets and stalwart furniture of the Germans, and their beds, which after so many ages of Anglo-Saxon satire remain immutably preposterous.  They are apparently imagined for the stature of sleepers who have shortened as they broadened; their pillows are triangularly shaped to bring the chin tight upon the breast under the bloated feather bulk which is meant for covering, and which rises over the sleeper from a thick substratum of cotton coverlet, neatly buttoned into the upper sheet, with the effect of a portly waistcoat.

The hotel was illumined by the kindly splendor of the uniformed portier, who had met the travellers at the door, like a glowing vision of the past, and a friendly air diffused itself through the whole house.  At the dinner, which, if not so cheap as they had somehow hoped, was by no means bad, they took counsel with the English-speaking waiter as to what entertainment Hamburg could offer for the evening, and by the time they had drunk their coffee they had courage for the Circus Renz, which seemed to be all there was.

The conductor of the trolley-car, which they hailed at the street corner, stopped it and got off the platform, and stood in the street until they were safely aboard, without telling them to step lively, or pulling them up the steps; or knuckling them in the back to make them move forward.  He let them get fairly seated before he started the car, and so lost the fun of seeing them lurch and stagger violently, and wildly clutch each other for support.  The Germans have so little sense of humor that probably no one in the car would have been amused to see the strangers flung upon the floor.  No one apparently found it droll that the conductor should touch his cap to them when he asked for their fare; no one smiled at their efforts to make him understand where they wished to go, and he did not wink at the other passengers in trying to find out.  Whenever the car stopped he descended first, and did not remount till the dismounting passenger had taken time to get well away from it.  When the Marches got into the wrong car in coming home, and were carried beyond their street, the conductor would not take their fare.

The kindly civility which environed them went far to alleviate the inclemency of the climate; it began to rain as soon as they left the shelter of the car, but a citizen of whom they asked the nearest way to the Circus Renz was so anxious to have them go aright that they did not mind the wet, and the thought of his goodness embittered March’s self-reproach for under-tipping the sort of gorgeous heyduk, with a staff like a drum-major’s, who left his place at the circus door to get their tickets.  He brought them back with a magnificent bow, and was then as visibly disappointed with the share of the change returned to him as a child would have been.

They went to their places with the sting of his disappointment rankling in their hearts.  “One ought always to overpay them,” March sighed, “and I will do it from this time forth; we shall not be much the poorer for it.  That heyduk is not going to get off with less than a mark when we come out.”  As an earnest of his good faith he gave the old man who showed them to their box a tip that made him bow double, and he bought every conceivable libretto and play-bill offered him at prices fixed by his remorse.

“One ought to do it,” he said.  “We are of the quality of good geniuses to these poor souls; we are Fortune in disguise; we are money found in the road.  It is an accursed system, but they are more its victims than we.”  His wife quite agreed with him, and with the same good conscience between them they gave themselves up to the pure joy which the circus, of all modern entertainments, seems alone to inspire.  The house was full from floor to roof when they came ins and every one was intent upon the two Spanish clowns, Lui-Lui and Soltamontes, whose drolleries spoke the universal language of circus humor, and needed no translation into either German or English.  They had missed by an event or two the more patriotic attraction of “Miss Darlings, the American Star,” as she was billed in English, but they were in time for one of those equestrian performances which leave the spectator almost exanimate from their prolixity, and the pantomimic piece which closed the evening.

This was not given until nearly the whole house had gone out and stayed itself with beer and cheese and ham and sausage, in the restaurant which purveys these light refreshments in the summer theatres all over Germany.  When the people came back gorged to the throat, they sat down in the right mood to enjoy the allegory of “The Enchanted Mountain’s Fantasy; the Mountain episodes; the High-interesting Sledges-Courses on the Steep Acclivities; the Amazing-Up-rush of the thence plunging-Four Trains, which arrive with Lightnings-swiftness at the Top of the over-40-feet-high Mountain-the Highest Triumph of the To-day’s Circus-Art; the Sledge-journey in the Wizard-mountain, and the Fairy Ballet in the Realm of the Ghost-prince, with Gold and Silver, Jewel, Bloomghosts, Gnomes, Gnomesses, and Dwarfs, in never-till-now-seen Splendor of Costume.”  The Marches were happy in this allegory, and happier in the ballet, which is everywhere delightfully innocent, and which here appealed with the large flat feet and the plain good faces of the ‘coryphées’ to all that was simplest and sweetest in their natures.  They could not have resisted, if they had wished, that environment, of good-will; and if it had not been for the disappointed heyduk, they would have got home from their evening at the Circus Renz without a pang.

They looked for him everywhere when they came out, but he had vanished, and they were left with a regret which, if unavailing, was not too poignant.  In spite of it they had still an exhilaration in their release from the companionship of their fellow-voyagers which they analyzed as the psychical revulsion from the strain of too great interest in them.  Mrs. March declared that for the present, at least, she wanted Europe quite to themselves; and she said that not even for the pleasure of seeing Burnamy and Miss Triscoe come into their box together world she have suffered an American trespass upon their exclusive possession of the Circus Renz.

In the audience she had seen German officers for the first time in Hamburg, and she meant, if unremitting question could bring out the truth, to know why she had not met any others.  She had read much of the prevalence and prépotence of the German officers who would try to push her off the sidewalk, till they realized that she was an American woman, and would then submit to her inflexible purpose of holding it.  But she had been some seven or eight hours in Hamburg, and nothing of the kind had happened to her, perhaps because she had hardly yet walked a block in the city streets, but perhaps also because there seemed to be very few officers or military of any kind in Hamburg.