The Unbearable Bassington HTML version

Chapter XV
Elaine Youghal sat at lunch in the Speise Saal of one of Vienna’s costlier hotels. The
double-headed eagle, with its “K.u.K.” legend, everywhere met the eye and announced
the imperial favour in which the establishment basked. Some several square yards of
yellow bunting, charged with the image of another double-headed eagle, floating from the
highest flag-staff above the building, betrayed to the initiated the fact that a Russian
Grand Duke was concealed somewhere on the premises. Unannounced by heraldic
symbolism but unconcealable by reason of nature’s own blazonry, were several citizens
and citizenesses of the great republic of the Western world. One or two Cobdenite
members of the British Parliament engaged in the useful task of proving that the cost of
living in Vienna was on an exorbitant scale, flitted with restrained importance through a
land whose fatness they had come to spy out; every fancied over-charge in their bills was
welcome as providing another nail in the coffin of their fiscal opponents. It is the glory
of democracies that they may be misled but never driven. Here and there, like brave
deeds in a dust-patterned world, flashed and glittered the sumptuous uniforms of
representatives of the Austrian military caste. Also in evidence, at discreet intervals,
were stray units of the Semetic tribe that nineteen centuries of European neglect had been
unable to mislay.
Elaine sitting with Courtenay at an elaborately appointed luncheon table, gay with high
goblets of Bohemian glassware, was mistress of three discoveries. First, to her
disappointment, that if you frequent the more expensive hotels of Europe you must be
prepared to find, in whatever country you may chance to be staying, a depressing
international likeness between them all. Secondly, to her relief, that one is not expected
to be sentimentally amorous during a modern honeymoon. Thirdly, rather to her dismay,
that Courtenay Youghal did not necessarily expect her to be markedly affectionate in
private. Someone had described him, after their marriage, as one of Nature’s bachelors,
and she began to see how aptly the description fitted him.
“Will those Germans on our left never stop talking?” she asked, as an undying flow of
Teutonic small talk rattled and jangled across the intervening stretch of carpet. “Not one
of those three women has ceased talking for an instant since we’ve been sitting here.”
“They will presently, if only for a moment,” said Courtenay; “when the dish you have
ordered comes in there will be a deathly silence at the next table. No German can see a
plat brought in for someone else without being possessed with a great fear that it
represents a more toothsome morsel or a better money’s worth than what he has ordered
for himself.”
The exuberant Teutonic chatter was balanced on the other side of the room by an even
more penetrating conversation unflaggingly maintained by a party of Americans, who
were sitting in judgment on the cuisine of the country they were passing through, and
finding few extenuating circumstances.