The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Stories HTML version

The Indiscretion Of Elsbeth
The American paused. He had evidently lost his way. For the last half hour he had been
wandering in a medieval town, in a profound medieval dream. Only a few days had
elapsed since he had left the steamship that carried him hither; and the accents of his own
tongue, the idioms of his own people, and the sympathetic community of New World
tastes and expressions still filled his mind until he woke up, or rather, as it seemed to him,
was falling asleep in the past of this Old World town which had once held his ancestors.
Although a republican, he had liked to think of them in quaint distinctive garb,
representing state and importance--perhaps even aristocratic pre-eminence--content to let
the responsibility of such "bad eminence" rest with them entirely, but a habit of
conscientiousness and love for historic truth eventually led him also to regard an honest
BAUER standing beside his cattle in the quaint market place, or a kindly-faced black-
eyed DIENSTMADCHEN in a doorway, with a timid, respectful interest, as a possible
type of his progenitors. For, unlike some of his traveling countrymen in Europe, he was
not a snob, and it struck him--as an American--that it was, perhaps, better to think of his
race as having improved than as having degenerated. In these ingenuous meditations he
had passed the long rows of quaint, high houses, whose sagging roofs and unpatched
dilapidations were yet far removed from squalor, until he had reached the road bordered
by poplars, all so unlike his own country's waysides--and knew that he had wandered far
from his hotel.
He did not care, however, to retrace his steps and return by the way he had come. There
was, he reasoned, some other street or turning that would eventually bring him to the
market place and his hotel, and yet extend his experience of the town. He turned at right
angles into a narrow grass lane, which was, however, as neatly kept and apparently as
public as the highway. A few moments' walking convinced him that it was not a
thoroughfare and that it led to the open gates of a park. This had something of a public
look, which suggested that his intrusion might be at least a pardonable trespass, and he
relied, like most strangers, on the exonerating quality of a stranger's ignorance. The park
lay in the direction he wished to go, and yet it struck him as singular that a park of such
extent should be still allowed to occupy such valuable urban space. Indeed, its length
seemed to be illimitable as he wandered on, until he became conscious that he must have
again lost his way, and he diverged toward the only boundary, a high, thickset hedge to
the right, whose line he had been following.
As he neared it he heard the sound of voices on the other side, speaking in German, with
which he was unfamiliar. Having, as yet, met no one, and being now impressed with the
fact that for a public place the park was singularly deserted, he was conscious that his
position was getting serious, and he determined to take this only chance of inquiring his
way. The hedge was thinner in some places than in others, and at times he could see not
only the light through it but even the moving figures of the speakers, and the occasional
white flash of a summer gown. At last he determined to penetrate it, and with little
difficulty emerged on the other side. But here he paused motionless. He found himself
behind a somewhat formal and symmetrical group of figures with their backs toward him,