"i do not care for your attitude, sir," adelaide informed herr manfred. "i think, after all, we shall return at some other time. i do not think my employers - who are persons of some consequence, i assure you - will be at all amused by my account of our experience here today. "
adelaide turned toward the door. "come, dora."
"but, fraulein," herr manfred replied patiently, " i have already explained to you that you may not leave until you have finished your business."
"nonsense!" adelaide pushed at the door behind her. it did not open.
she turned the handle and pushed again. the door still did not open.
she turned back to herr manfred, who regarded her with a sorrowful expression.
franz, the self-styled "guide" who had offered his services to adelaide and dora, smiled from behind herr manfred's back. adelaide thought he looked a little more like a demon and a little less like a monkey than when she first beheld him.
herr manfred smiled sadly at adelaide and dora. "come now, ladies, i may tell you that i have become an old hand at this. most of the world is marching to the new tune, but an occasional straggler from the old ways still wanders in - " he spread his hands. " - and i have to explain things to them. and it always ends the same way. always ends the same way."
at herr manfred's repetition of "always ends the same way," little franz grinned even more evilly than before.
"and how is that, sir?" adelaide asked. "what is the way that it always ends?"
"why, it ends with them going their way. what other way can they go, but their way? i ask you."
at this franz laughed out loud, in a bat-like squeak.
"again," herr manfred continued, " i urge you to make use of the services of an experienced guide. look here, franz, what will you charge these ladies?"
"only two marks, sir. only two marks, ladies. two marks for the first three hours of our search, one additional mark for each hour after that."
"two marks!" exclaimed herr manfred, with a boisterous laugh. "do you hear that? why, you would give two marks to a beggar or a flower seller and think nothing of it. the matter is settled. franz, the ladies are in your capable hands."
"i do not think so!" cried adelaide. "what is all this about 'the first three hours'! are you mad? i am sure we can make our own way around every inch of the building in an hour!" she glared at herr manfred, while avoiding franz's leering gaze. "and that is if we crawled on our hands and knees!"
"very well!" herr manfred held up his hands in surrender. " i have done my best. i assume, then, that you will not be engaging franz's services?"
"no, we will not! come, dora, we will find our own way. i take it, sir," adelaide addressed herr manfred, "that persons who enter here have, in fact, been known to finally emerge back into the street?"
"why, as to that, fraulein, i can not rightly say - can not positively say one way or another. i wish you good luck in your explorations." and with that herr manfred turned and went back down the corridor he had emerged from.
with a final smirking glance back at adelaide and dora, franz followed him.
"what now?" dora timidly asked adelaide. "which direction shall we go?"
"i say we go up these stairs," said adelaide, " just to get as far away from those two wretches as possible."
dora considered this. "yes, but if we stay down here we might find another door - one that will let us out."
without saying so out loud, they were both agreed that all they wanted to do was escape the building, and dora's marriage license was now of no concern.
"yes," adelaide replied. "that may be. on the other hand, if we ascend, we may find a window from which we can call down to the coachman - or maybe some person on the street who will take a message back to the house and to frau grunhilde. i am sure -" adelaide took a deep breath - "that frau grunhilde will know what to do in this situation and will take the proper steps - " she stopped short rather than say the words "to rescue us."
dora realized that adelaide had made her mind up to climb the staircase, so without another word they began their ascent.
and indeed the staircase had something regal, reassuring and almost welcoming about it, as opposed to the gloom of the corridor from which it emerged.
they lifted their skirts and began to climb, with dora just behind adelaide, and both of them holding tight to the solid bannister.
they climbed and climbed. their boots clicked loudly on the steps. there was no other sound, and no sign of any other people.
surely in such a vast building there must be some other persons going from one place to another within it!
dora looked to her left. she realized that one reason the climb was so long was that they were passing floors - the staircase did not lead directly to the second floor but bypassed the second and third floors - she could see rows of doors - presumably of various government offices - on those floors but no way to get to them except climbing over the railing of the staircase and leaping over empty space and onto what looked like narrow walkways in front of the offices.
most of the office doors had glass panes in them. although she could not be certain in the dim light, none of the panes seemed to have writing on them. nor did the doors without glass on them seem to be marked in any way.
she pointed these observations out to adelaide.
adelaide stopped, and looked out at the two landings filled with doors. "you are right," she told dora, "and look at how many of them there are!"
"how," asked dora, "are we to get to those doors? it seems any one of them could be the marriage bureau."
"i suppose." adelaide replied, " that there are staircases on the sides. that is not such a concern. but that they do not indicate what they are - are we to knock on every door and enquire as to what it is and whether it is the one we want?"
"perhaps it would take three hours!" cried dora. " as that young man said. or all day! " she looked back down the staircase. "maybe we should go back and find him."
"nonsense! we can find our own way! and - i think we should just find our way out of here, and worry about the license later. do you not agree?"
"oh, yes!" dora cried eagerly.
"then," said adelaide, "we need only find one door, or one window, or one kind stranger to take pity on us and show us the way out - surely that will not be too difficult."
"no, of course not!"
they resumed climbing.
finally they reached the fourth floor. the landing seemed a bit wider and brighter and the doors in the corridors leading away from it spaced further apart than those on the lower floors.
as if they were the offices of more important bureaus or personages.
there were, however, no signs or writing on any of the doors to indicate what was behind them.
they walked past a well tended potted plant and a large gleaming brass ashtray filled with fine looking sand and a lone cigar butt.
they stopped in front of the first door. it had a smoked glass pane and an enormous doorknob shaped as the head of - a gargoyle? - of medusa?