"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?
quinette had not managed to write quite a full page during the day. with a sigh, she got up from the typewriter and looked out the window.
it was dull and grey outside, with the leaves waving listlessly in the wind, on the not quite bare trees .
sabine was walking outside. she was accompanied by judy, one of the guards who had no "regular" princess but rotated in fill-in shifts.
judy was talking animatedly and waving her hands. sabine did not seem to be paying her the strictest attention.
the door opened behind quinette, and olga entered. quinette had been expecting her as it was the beginning of her shift. olga usually came on just before dinner and stayed through the night and early morning. quinette usually stayed awake until around midnight and the two of them spent the time talking and praying and studying the bible.
then when quinette woke up in the morning they prayed before going down to breakfast.
"good afternoon, sister," olga greeted quinette.
"good evening to you, sister." quinette managed a smile.
"you don't look too cheery this evening."
"oh, i'm just tired." quinette turned from the window and sat back down at the desk.
"a good dinner will fix you right up."
"i don't really feel like eating. i'll order something for you if you want." quinette was a light eater but often ordered or brought food back to the room, and olga, who had a very healthy appetite, ate it.
"nonsense. you have to keep your strength up, sister." olga sat down on the bed. "but before we go down, i have some interesting news for you. i think you will be cheered by it."
"oh. and what might that be?"
"i've been talking with some of the other guards. usually when we are on the bus."
quinette nodded. "and?"
"we get to talking about how far along the different girls are getting writing their books."
"oh!" quinette looked up. "is that allowed?"
"it's not not allowed."
"are you sure?"
"i talk to monika on the bus. she and zelda asked helga about it and she said it was all right. as long as you don't make a big deal out of it."
quinette did not look completely convinced. "so, what did you find out?"
"that no one seems to be far behind or far ahead. so there is no reason to be afraid you are falling behind."
"yes," quinette answered slowly. "i suppose that is good. but they are not supposed to be based on speed. i suppose it is good that i am not behind." and then, more animatedly. "thank you for finding that out."
"it was my pleasure, sister. but i have another point to make - one that i have been giving some thought to."
"since you are not falling behind, i think this may be a good time to take a new tack in the book."
quinette's eyes widened. "you mean start all over!"
"oh, no, no," olga laughed. "i didn't mean that. but look here, sister, you know i have been reading this stendhal person you are supposed to be imitating."
"yes," sighed quinette, "so have i." she hesitated. "one book, the red and the black, was sort of interesting, but the rest -"
"yes, dull stuff. i bet the other girls did not get models half so dull."
"maybe , but what can i do? the rules are the rules."
"i know, but look here - i have thought about it and prayed a on it, and here is what i think -"
"the style only counts for part of what you will be judged on. i think we - you - should keep the background of a stendhal book, but otherwise just write the most thundering good story we can. i am sure the judges don't really want to be bored and might like something they can actually read."
quinette hesitated. "well, if you think it is a good idea -". she made a face. "i guess we might not have anything to lose."
"i say we do it," olga replied confidently. "after all, the bible is the word of the lord, but it is also a rollicking good yarn."
from lieutenant jean-pierre z--------- of the ------th hussars, to sergeant jean d-----, of the ---------th replacement regiment.
my dear d--------,
i hope to find you alive. i have no news. i have not had a great deal of success with my new commission as a recruiting officer, and am considering resigning it and returning to the hussars before i find myself brought up on charges of abusing my new position. i have indeed had a few fellows sign up, and sent them on their way, but who knows if they ever joined their units. or what the units did with them if they ever got there. what training could they give them in all this chaos?
well - i do not mean to either complain, or to re-fight the war. let me know if you receive this, and i will send more news if there is any to send.
meanwhile, my position here is almost too comfortable. i have little to do except eat , sleep, and flirt (alas, no more!) with some agreeable if haughty females. i fear a violent change of fortune, as nature's inevitable revenge…
from sergeant jean d------------, of the ----------th replacement regiment, to lieutenant jean-pierre z---------- of the -----------th hussars.
my dear z------------,
i am gratified to find you alive and well, as for some reason (a premonition, a dream?) i feared the worst. i see a smile on your lips - no, i have not consulted any fortune tellers! but let me be brief - i encourage you by all means to resign your duty as a recruiting officer - and if expedient, to give up your commission altogether. surely, given his recent successes, our friend the corsican can spare you - especially as he has been providing you with such humble duty lately!
in any case i beg you to join me here as soon as you are able. as i have found a splendid opportunity, if not for fame, glory, and indefinite wealth, at least for a brief taste of the latter. have you ever heard of the dagger of francisco borgia? or the skullcap of pope innocent xv? surely, you are thinking, no doubt francesco borgia had a dagger, and the worthy innocent xv more than one cap, but what are they to me? what, indeed? i say no more, i have either piqued your curiosity or not.
i can be found, for the next month at least, at the hotel of the count of o------------, in the plaza of dominoes, here in milan. please let me know, if you can, if you plan to join me.
i forgot to mention, i have in fact, left the army, with no fuss. i simply expressed my wish to do so, and sergeant-major a--------------- (surely you remember him) tugged at his moustache and told me to be on my way, without even consulting a superior officer! hopefully you will l have no more trouble than i.
from lieutenant jean-pierre z--------- of the ------th hussars, to lieutenant narcissi de y--------, of the --------- hussars.
my dear y------------.
i hope you are still well. i do not mean to trouble you so soon after my recent letter, but i could not forbear telling you of the most amusing missive i have just received from our old friend d------------, from toulouse, lately of the replacement regiment. you remember, i am sure, how much drollery we extracted from d-----------'s childish imagination, which, in the phrase of gibbon, "listened with eager credulity to every impostor who flattered his prejudices by a tale of wonders". it seems that d------------ has indeed been listening to some tales of wonder, particularly to some tales of wondrous objects, of the type so familiar, both to military campfires and beggars' alehouses. whether the ones in question have magical properties, or are expected to bring fabulous sums for their ransom, d------------ did not elaborate.
i suspect the latter - in such tales there is always some fabulously wealthy (but strangely unknown) personage who will sell his kingdom for a glimpse of the fabulous object… the fabulous object, of course, is always easily concealed in a knapsack or under a cloak…
bur perhaps d----------- has sent you the same intelligence! so i will only add that d--------- informs me that he has been released from the army, without so much as a bye-your-leave. i hear conflicting reports. on the one hand, that peace will descend, and all rascals under arms will be free to wander away to their own rascality. on the other, that huge campaigns and battles are planned, and none can be spared. you probably know for certain no more than, but what are you hearing?
from esme, comtesse de j---------------, to daphne, comtesse de v-----------,care of the duke of o--------------
i hope i find you well. i know you fled to our friend the duke's to forego the hazards of war. in which case you probably imagine my poor self to be barricaded in my apartments, and writing this letter by the paltriest of candles as artillery thunders all around me. for better or worse, nothing could be further from the reality. i begin to think that war is even more of a bore than peace…
but, my dear, i am not writing to tell you a sad story. rather, to tell you the most amusing story i heard the other night at a sort of carnival, held to celebrate our liberation by the almighty and gallant corsican… tell me, have you ever heard of the skullcap of pope innocent xv…