despite the assurances of the two aunts, dora, who was uncomfortable with any change in her settled existence - who in fact had difficulty even imagining such a thing - felt considerable apprehension about her proposed visit to the marriage bureau, and had little appetite.
the two aunts attacked the luncheon in their usual manner - aunt grunhilde with singleminded gusto, and aunt delphine with a delicate air of indifference, managing nonetheless to dispose of everything put before her .
as the minutes dragged by, dora's agony increased. she would have liked to ask a number of questions - but she was too well bred to open her mouth or to question the older women.
finally aunt delphine finished her last cup of tea and the cups and plates were removed.
as the afternoon sunlight receded dustily through the curtains, neither of the drowsing aunts seemed inclined to bring up the subject of the marriage bureau - could they have forgotten it? with a supreme effort, dora summoned up the effort to ask -
"should i have adelaide summoned, so that she can make ready to accompany me to the marriage bureau?"
"of course, of course," aunt grunhilde answered absently. "and i must be getting along to the countess of g---------'s".
aunt delphine seemed to have fallen asleep.
in due course dora found herself outside on the chilly street with her maid adelaide, waiting for the coachman to bring the carriage around.
despite aunt delphine's low opinion of her faculties, adelaide was as capable as anybody of shepherding dora to the administration building and the marriage bureau. a sharp-featured, impertinent creature with ideas very much above her station, adelaide was as well versed in current affairs as delphine herself, and took a particular interest in womans suffrage, a subject on which she held the most uncompromising opinions. she would have very much enjoyed discussing such things with her young mistress, who, by adelaide's lights, should have been in the forefront of the suffragette movement given her youth and social standing, but had found her a most apathetic and indifferent listener, and had therefore refrained from voicing her opinions too loudly or too often.
"do you think gustav will know the way?" dora now asked adelaide, as she watched her breath float away in the clear, cold air.
"know the way? miss, i know the way. we could walk there if that was your pleasure."
"oh no, no. it's - it's much too cold."
"pooh. bracing, i should say. anyways, it is the biggest building in the city, probably the biggest in the empire. if you don't count castles and such. it is so big it will find you if you can't find it."
"oh?" the phrase "biggest building in the empire" had struck a chord in dora's brain. "is it the biggest building in the world, then?"
"i do not know about that. i suppose it might be. but here is gustav."
gustav, an ageless servant, wore a blue uniform perfectly suited to his station and to the station of the von d------ family. on this occasion he was driving the townhouse's smallest coach, with a single small and well behaved pony.
"so, where are we headed this fine this morning?" he asked adelaide.
"the administration building."
"ah." gustav looked around. " nice afternoon for a walk, seems to me."
"that is not for you to decide, " adelaide answered sharply. she opened the door of the coach for dora to get in, but dora hesitated.
"which entrance?" gustav asked. "do you know where you want to go?"
"take us to the main entrance, please. we shall find our way from there."
gustav shook his head. "are you sure about that? folks have been known to lose their way in there. disappear, never to be seen again."
"we will have none of your old woodchopper's tales today, if you please!," adelaide quickly answered, seeing the look of horror on dora's face. "pay no mind to him," she added to dora, "it is just his country cousin humor. most inappropriate, at this or any other time. "
adelaide and gustav were old adversaries "below stairs", with adelaide generally standing up for the forward looking modern world and gustav inclining to the worldview of his peasant forbears.
dora and adelaide finally got into the carriage, with adelaide virtually pushing dora in, and they set off.
it seemed to dora that she had hardly settled in her seat before adelaide was jumping out and opening the door for her. what a hurry everyone was in!
the administration building stretched as far as dora could see. and though it was only a mile from her home, she had never seen it before. it filled three full city blocks, with enclosed passageways in the alleys between the blocks.
a huge brass double door, unadorned with any inscriptions and unflanked with any statuary, loomed before her. seven broad marble steps led up to it from the street. adelaide pointed her to it and she put her foot on the first step.
adelaide stayed behind for a word with the coachman. "i have told you before, gustav, for your own good, you should hold your tongue here in town. you are not in the country with the old baron lying on his dirty sofa with his pipe and his dogs not minding anything you say. these people in the city are not so quick to laugh."
"yes, duchess. tell me, do you think i will have time to smoke a pipe of my own while i wait for you?"
"i do not care what you do. but be here when we return."
gustav nodded and took his pipe out of his pocket, and then his tobacco. he began stuffing the pipe.
he watched as dora and adelaide began ascending the steps.