The Street of Seven Stars HTML version

Chapter 4
The supper that evening was even unusually bad. Frau Schwarz, much crimped and clad
in frayed black satin, presided at the head of the long table. There were few, almost no
Americans, the Americans flocking to good food at reckless prices in more fashionable
pensions; to the Frau Gallitzenstein's, for instance, in the Kochgasse, where there was to
be had real beefsteak, where turkeys were served at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and
where, were one so minded, one might revel in whipped cream.
The Pension Schwarz, however, was not without adornment. In the center of the table
was a large bunch of red cotton roses with wire stems and green paper leaves, and over
the side-table, with its luxury of compote in tall glass dishes and its wealth of small hard
cakes, there hung a framed motto which said, "Nicht Rauchen," "No Smoking,"--and
which looked suspiciously as if it had once adorned a compartment of a railroad train.
Peter Byrne was early in the dining-room. He had made, for him, a careful toilet, which
consisted of a shave and clean linen. But he had gone further: He had discovered, for the
first time in the three months of its defection, a button missing from his coat, and had set
about to replace it. He had cut a button from another coat, by the easy method of
amputating it with a surgical bistoury, and had sewed it in its new position with a curved
surgical needle and a few inches of sterilized catgut. The operation was slow and painful,
and accomplished only with the aid of two cigarettes and an artery clip. When it was over
he tied the ends in a surgeon's knot underneath and stood back to consider the result. It
seemed neat enough, but conspicuous. After a moment or two of troubled thought he
blacked the white catgut with a dot of ink and went on his way rejoicing.
Peter Byrne was entirely untroubled as to the wisdom of the course he had laid out for
himself. He followed no consecutive line of thought as he dressed. When he was not
smoking he was whistling, and when he was doing neither, and the needle proved
refractory in his cold fingers, he was swearing to himself. For there was no fire in the
room. The materials for a fire were there, and a white tile stove, as cozy as an obelisk in a
cemetery, stood in the corner. But fires are expensive, and hardly necessary when one
sleeps with all one's windows open--one window, to be exact, the room being very small-
-and spends most of the day in a warm and comfortable shambles called a hospital.
To tell the truth he was not thinking of Harmony at all, except subconsciously, as
instance the button. He was going over, step by step, the technic of an operation he had
seen that afternoon, weighing, considering, even criticizing. His conclusion, reached as
he brushed back his hair and put away his sewing implements, was somewhat to the
effect that he could have done a better piece of work with his eyes shut and his hands tied
behind his back; and that if it were not for the wealth of material to work on he'd pack up
and go home. Which brought him back to Harmony and his new responsibility. He took
off the necktie he had absently put on and hunted out a better one.