The Street of Seven Stars HTML version

Chapter 3
The coffee-house was warm and bright. Round its small tables were gathered
miscellaneous groups, here and there a woman, but mostly men--uniformed officers, who
made of the neighborhood coffee-house a sort of club, where under their breath they
criticized the Government and retailed small regimental gossip; professors from the
university, still wearing under the beards of middle life the fine horizontal scars of
student days; elderly doctors from the general hospital across the street; even a Hofrath or
two, drinking beer and reading the "Fliegende Blaetter" and "Simplicissimus"; and in an
alcove round a billiard table a group of noisy Korps students. Over all a permeating odor
of coffee, strong black coffee, made with a fig or two to give it color. It rose even above
the blue tobacco haze and dominated the atmosphere with its spicy and stimulating
richness. A bustle of waiters, a hum of conversation, the rattle of newspapers and the
click of billiard balls--this was the coffee-house.
Harmony had never been inside one before. The little music colony had been a tight-
closed corporation, retaining its American integrity, in spite of the salon of Maria Theresa
and three expensive lessons a week in German. Harmony knew the art galleries and the
churches, which were free, and the opera, thanks to no butter at supper. But of that
backbone of Austrian life, the coffee-house, she was profoundly ignorant.
Her companion found her a seat in a corner near a heater and disappeared for an instant
on the search for the Paris edition of the "Herald." The girl followed him with her eyes.
Seen under the bright electric lights, he was not handsome, hardly good-looking. His
mouth was wide, his nose irregular, his hair a nondescript brown,--but the mouth had
humor, the nose character, and, thank Heaven, there was plenty of hair. Not that
Harmony saw all this at once. As he tacked to and fro round the tables, with a nod here
and a word there, she got a sort of ensemble effect--a tall man, possibly thirty,
broadshouldered, somewhat stooped, as tall men are apt to be. And shabby, undeniably
The shabbiness was a shock. A much-braided officer, trim from the points of his
mustache to the points of his shoes, rose to speak to him. The shabbiness was accentuated
by the contrast. Possibly the revelation was an easement to the girl's nervousness. This
smiling and unpressed individual, blithely waving aloft the Paris edition of the "Herald"
and equally blithely ignoring the maledictions of the student from whom he had taken it--
even Scatchy could not have called him a vulture or threatened him with the police.
He placed the paper before her and sat down at her side, not to interfere with her outlook
over the room.
"Warmer?" he asked.
"Very much."