Stories in Light and Shadow HTML version

"Unser Karl"
The American consul for Schlachtstadt had just turned out of the broad Konig's
Allee into the little square that held his consulate. Its residences always seemed
to him to wear that singularly uninhabited air peculiar to a street scene in a
theatre. The facades, with their stiff, striped wooden awnings over the windows,
were of the regularity, color, and pattern only seen on the stage, and
conversation carried on in the street below always seemed to be invested with
that perfect confidence and security which surrounds the actor in his painted
desert of urban perspective. Yet it was a peaceful change to the other byways
and highways of Schlachtstadt which were always filled with an equally unreal
and mechanical soldiery, who appeared to be daily taken out of their boxes of
"caserne" or "depot" and loosely scattered all over the pretty linden-haunted
German town. There were soldiers standing on street corners; soldiers staring
woodenly into shop windows; soldiers halted suddenly into stone, like lizards, at
the approach of Offiziere; Offiziere lounging stiffly four abreast, sweeping the
pavement with their trailing sabres all at one angle. There were cavalcades of red
hussars, cavalcades of blue hussars, cavalcades of Uhlans, with glittering lances
and pennons—with or without a band—formally parading; there were straggling
"fatigues" or "details" coming round the corners; there were dusty, businesslike
columns of infantry, going nowhere and to no purpose. And they one and all
seemed to be WOUND UP—for that service—and apparently always in the same
place. In the band of their caps—invariably of one pattern—was a button, in the
centre of which was a square opening or keyhole. The consul was always
convinced that through this keyhole opening, by means of a key, the humblest
caporal wound up his file, the Hauptmann controlled his lieutenants and non-
commissioned officers, and even the general himself, wearing the same cap, was
subject through his cap to a higher moving power. In the suburbs, when the
supply of soldiers gave out, there were sentry-boxes; when these dropped off,
there were "caissons," or commissary wagons. And, lest the military idea should
ever fail from out the Schlachtstadt's burgher's mind, there were police in
uniform, street-sweepers in uniform; the ticket-takers, guards, and sweepers at
the Bahnhof were in uniform,—but all wearing the same kind of cap, with the
probability of having been wound up freshly each morning for their daily work.
Even the postman delivered peaceful invoices to the consul with his side-arms
and the air of bringing dispatches from the field of battle; and the consul saluted,
and felt for a few moments the whole weight of his consular responsibility.
Yet, in spite of this military precedence, it did not seem in the least inconsistent
with the decidedly peaceful character of the town, and this again suggested its
utter unreality; wandering cows sometimes got mixed up with squadrons of
cavalry, and did not seem to mind it; sheep passed singly between files of
infantry, or preceded them in a flock when on the march; indeed, nothing could
be more delightful and innocent than to see a regiment of infantry in heavy
marching order, laden with every conceivable thing they could want for a week,