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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDawn O'hara, The Girl Who Laughed - Chapter XV - FAREWELL TO KNAPFS'
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Dawn O'hara, The Girl Who Laughed - Chapter XV - FAREWELL TO KNAPFS' Post by :jbarnes Category :Long Stories Author :Edna Ferber Date :March 2011 Read :1627

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Dawn O'hara, The Girl Who Laughed - Chapter XV - FAREWELL TO KNAPFS'

Consternation has corrugated the brows of the aborigines.
Consternation twice confounded had added a wrinkle or two
to my collection. We are homeless. That is, we are
Knapfless--we, to whom the Knapfs spelled home.

Herr Knapf, mustache aquiver, and Frau Knapf, cheek
bones glistening, broke the news to us one evening just
a week after the exciting day which so changed Bennie's
life. "Es thut uns sehr, sehr leid," Herr Knapf had
begun. And before he had finished, protesting German
groans mingled with voluble German explanations. The
aborigines were stricken down. They clapped pudgy fists
to knobby foreheads; they smote their breasts, and made
wild gestures with their arms. If my protests were less
frenzied than theirs, it was only because my knowledge of
German stops at words of six syllables.

Out of the chaos of ejaculations and interrogation
the reason for our expulsion at last was made
clear. The little German hotel had not been
remunerative. Our host and hostess were too hospitable
and too polite to state the true reason for this state of
affairs. Perhaps rents were too high. Perhaps, thought
I, Frau Knapf had been too liberal with the butter in the
stewed chicken. Perhaps there had been too many golden
Pfannkuchen with real eggs and milk stirred into them,
and with toothsome little islands of ruddy currant jelly
on top. Perhaps there had been too much honest,
nourishing food, and not enough boarding-house victuals.
At any rate, the enterprise would have to be abandoned.

It was then that the bare, bright little dining room,
with its queer prints of chin-chucking lieutenants, and
its queerer faces, and its German cookery became very
dear to me. I had grown to like Frau Knapf, of the
shining cheek bones, and Herr Knapf, of the heavy
geniality. A close bond of friendship had sprung up
between Frau Nirlanger and me. I would miss her friendly
visits, and her pretty ways, and her sparkling
conversation. She and I had held many kimonoed pow-wows,
and sometimes--not often--she had given me wonderful
glimpses of that which she had left--of
Vienna, the opera, the court, the life which had been
hers. She talked marvelously well, for she had all the
charm and vivacity of the true Viennese. Even the
aborigines, bristling pompadours, thick spectacles,
terrifying manner, and all, became as dear as old
friends, now that I knew I must lose them.

The great, high-ceilinged room upstairs had taken on
the look of home. The Blue-beard closet no longer
appalled me. The very purpleness of the purple roses in
the rug had grown beautiful in my eyes because they were
part of that little domain which spelled peace and
comfort and kindness. How could I live without the stout
yellow brocade armchair! Its plethoric curves were balm
for my tired bones. Its great lap admitted of sitting
with knees crossed, Turk-fashion. Its cushioned back
stopped just at the point where the head found needed
support. Its pudgy arms offered rest for tired elbows;
its yielding bosom was made for tired backs. Given the
padded comfort of that stout old chair--a friendly,
time-tried book between my fingers--a dish of ruddy
apples twinkling in the fire-light; my mundane soul
snuggled in content. And then, too, the
book-in-the-making had grown in that room. It had
developed from a weak, wobbling uncertainty into a
lusty full-blooded thing that grew and grew
until it promised soon to become mansize.

Now all this was to be changed. And I knew that I
would miss the easy German atmosphere of the place; the
kindness they had shown me; the chattering, admiring
Minna; the taffy-colored dachshund; the aborigines with
their ill-smelling pipes and flappy slippers; the
Wienerschnitzel; the crushed-looking wives and the
masterful German husbands; the very darns in the
table-cloths and the very nicks in the china.

We had a last family gathering in token of our
appreciation of Herr and Frau Knapf. And because I had
not seen him for almost three weeks; and because the time
for his going was drawing so sickeningly near; and
because I was quite sure that I had myself in hand; and
because he knew the Knapfs, and was fond of them; and
because-well, I invited Von Gerhard. He came, and I
found myself dangerously glad to see him, so that I made
my greeting as airy and frivolous as possible. Perhaps
I overdid the airy business, for Von Gerhard looked at me
for a long, silent minute, until the nonsense I had been
chattering died on my lips, and I found myself staring up
at him like a child that is apprehensive of being scolded
for some naughtiness.

"Not so much chatter, small one," he said,
unsmilingly. "This pretense, it is not necessary between
you and me. So. You are ein bischen blasz, nicht? A
little pale? You have not been ill, Dawn?"

"Ill? Never felt more chipper in my life," I made
flippant answer, "and I adore these people who are
forever telling one how unusually thin, or pale, or
scrawny one is looking."

"Na, they are not to be satisfied, these women! If
I were to tell you how lovely you look to me to-night you
would draw yourself up with chill dignity and remind me
that I am not privileged to say these things to you. So
I discreetly mention that you are looking, interestingly
pale, taking care to keep all tenderness out of my tones,
and still you are not pleased." He shrugged despairing

"Can't you strike a happy medium between rudeness
and tenderness? After all, I haven't had a glimpse of
your blond beauty for three weeks. And while I don't ask
you to whisper sweet nothings, still, after twenty-one

"You have been lonely? If only I thought that those
weeks have been as wearisome to you--"

"Not lonely exactly," I hurriedly interrupted, "but
sort of wishing that some one would pat me on the head
and tell me that I was a good doggie. You know what I
mean. It is so easy to become accustomed to
thoughtfulness and devotion, and so dreadfully hard to be
happy without it, once one has had it. This has been a
sort of training for what I may expect when Vienna has
swallowed you up."

"You are still obstinate? These three weeks have not
changed you? Ach, Dawn! Kindchen!--"

But I knew that these were thin spots marked
"Danger!" in our conversational pond. So, "Come," said
I. "I have two new aborigines for you to meet. They are
the very shiniest and wildest of all our shiny-faced and
wild aborigines. And you should see their trousers and
neckties! If you dare to come back from Vienna wearing
trousers like these!--"

"And is the party in honor of these new aborigines?"
laughed Von Gerhard. "You did not explain in your note.
Merely you asked me to come, knowing that I cared not
if it were a lawn fete or a ball, so long as I might
again be with you."

We were on our way to the dining room, where the
festivities were to be held. I stopped and turned a look
of surprise upon him.

"Don't you know that the Knapfs are leaving? Did I
neglect to mention that this is a farewell party for Herr
and Frau Knapf? We are losing our home, and we have just
one week in which to find another."

"But where will you go? And why did you not tell me
this before?"

"I haven't an idea where I shall lay my poor old
head. In the lap of the gods, probably, for I don't know
how I shall find the time to interview landladies and
pack my belongings in seven short days. The book will
have to suffer for it. Just when it was getting along so
beautifully, too."

There was a dangerous tenderness in Von Gerhard's
eyes as he said: "Again you are a wanderer, eh--small
one? That you, with your love of beautiful things, and
your fastidiousness, should have to live in this way--in
these boarding-houses, alone, with not even the comforts
that should be yours. Ach, Kindchen, you were not made
for that. You were intended for the home, with a husband,
and kinder, and all that is truly worth while."

I swallowed a lump in my throat as I shrugged my
shoulders. "Pooh! Any woman can have a husband and
babies," I retorted, wickedly. "But mighty few women can
write a book. It's a special curse."

"And you prefer this life--this existence, to the
things that I offer you! You would endure these
hardships rather than give up the nonsensical views which
you entertain toward your--"

"Please. We were not to talk of that. I am enduring
no hardships. Since I have lived in this pretty town I
have become a worshiper of the goddess Gemutlichkeit.
Perhaps I shan't find another home as dear to my heart as
this has been, but at least I shan't have to sleep on a
park bench, and any one can tell you that park benches
have long been the favored resting place of genius.
There is Frau Nirlanger beckoning us. Now do stop
scowling, and smile for the lady. I know you will get on
beautifully with the aborigines."

He did get on with them so beautifully that in less
than half an hour they were swapping stories of Germany,
of Austria, of the universities, of student life. Frau
Knapf served a late supper, at which some one led in
singing Auld Lang Syne, although the sounds emanating
from the aborigines' end of the table sounded
suspiciously like Die Wacht am Rhein.
Following that the aborigines rose en masse and roared
out their German university songs, banging their glasses
on the table when they came to the chorus until we all
caught the spirit of it and banged our glasses like
rathskeller veterans. Then the red-faced and amorous
Fritz, he of the absent Lena, announced his intention of
entertaining the company. Made bold by an injudicious
mixture of Herr Knapf's excellent beer, and a wonderful
punch which Von Gerhard had concocted, Fritz mounted his
chair, placed his plump hand over the spot where he
supposed his heart to be, fastened his watery blue eyes
upon my surprised and blushing countenance, and sang
"Weh! Dass Wir Scheiden Mussen!" in an astonishingly
beautiful barytone. I dared not look at Von Gerhard, for
I knew that he was purple with suppressed mirth, so I
stared stonily at the sardine sandwich and dill pickle on
my plate, and felt myself growing hot and hysterical, and
cold and tearful by turns.

At the end of the last verse I rose hastily
and brought from their hiding-place the gifts which we of
Knapfs' had purchased as remembrances for Herr and Frau
Knapf. I had been delegated to make the presentation
speech, so I grasped in one hand the too elaborate pipe
that was to make Herr Knapf unhappy, and the too
fashionable silk umbrella that was to appall Frau Knapf,
and ascended the little platform at the end of the dining
room, and began to speak in what I fondly thought to be
fluent and highsounding German. Immediately the
aborigines went off into paroxysms of laughter. They
threw back their heads and roared, and slapped their
thighs, and spluttered. It appeared that they thought I
was making a humorous speech. At that discovery I cast
dignity aside and continued my speech in the language of
a German vaudeville comedian, with a dash of Weber and
Field here and there. With the presentation of the silk
umbrella Frau Knapf burst into tears, groped about
helplessly for her apron, realized that it was missing
from its accustomed place, and wiped her tears upon her
cherished blue silk sleeve in the utter abandon of her
sorrow. We drank to the future health and prosperity of
our tearful host and hostess, and some one suggested drei
mal drei, to which we responded in a manner to make the
chin-chucking lieutenant tremble in his frame on the wall.

When it was all over Frau Nirlanger beckoned me, and
she, Dr. von Gerhard and I stole out into the hall and
stood at the foot of the stairway, discussing our plans
for the future, and trying to smile as we talked of this
plan and that. Frau Nirlanger, in the pretty white gown,
was looking haggard and distrait. The oogly husband was
still in the dining room, finishing the beer and punch,
of which he had already taken too much.

"A tiny apartment we have taken," said Frau
Nirlanger, softly. "It is better so. Then I shall have
a little housework, a little cooking, a little marketing
to keep me busy and perhaps happy." Her hand closed over
mine. "But that shall us not separate," she pleaded.
"Without you to make me sometimes laugh what should I
then do? You will bring her often to our little
apartment, not?" she went on, turning appealingly to Von

"As often as Mrs. Orme will allow me," he answered.

"Ach, yes. So lonely I shall be. You do not know
what she has been to me, this Dawn. She is brave for
two. Always laughing she is, and merry, nicht wahr?
Meine kleine Soldatin, I call her.

"Soldatin, eh?" mused Von Gerhard. "Our little
soldier. She is well named. And her battles she fights
alone. But quite alone." His eyes, as they looked down
on me from his great height had that in them which sent
the blood rushing and tingling to my finger-tips. I
brought my hand to my head in stiff military salute.

"Inspection satisfactory, sir?"

He laughed a rueful little laugh. "Eminently. Aber
ganz befriedigend."

He was very tall, and straight and good to look at as
he stood there in the hall with the light from the
newel-post illuminating his features and emphasizing his
blondness. Frau Nirlanger's face wore a drawn little
look of pain as she gazed at him, and from him to the
figure of her husband who had just emerged from the
dining room, and was making unsteady progress toward us.
Herr Nirlanger's face was flushed and his damp, dark hair
was awry so that one lock straggled limply down over his
forehead. As he approached he surveyed us with a surly
frown that changed slowly into a leering grin. He
lurched over and placed a hand familiarly on my shoulder.

"We mus' part," he announced, dramatically. "O, weh!
The bes' of frien's m'z part. Well, g'by, li'l
interfering Teufel. F'give you, though, b'cause you're
such a pretty li'l Teufel." He raised one hand as though
to pat my check and because of the horror which I saw on
the face of the woman beside me I tried to smile, and did
not shrink from him. But with a quick movement Von
Gerhard clutched the swaying figure and turned it so that
it faced the stairs.

"Come Nirlanger! Time for hard-working men like you
and me to be in bed. Mrs. Orme must not nod over her
desk to-morrow, either. So good-night. Schlafen Sie

Konrad Nirlanger turned a scowling face over his
shoulder. Then he forgot what he was scowling for, and
smiled a leering smile.

"Pretty good frien's, you an' the li'l Teufel, yes?
Guess we'll have to watch you, huh, Anna? We'll watch
'em, won't we?"

He began to climb the stairs laboriously, with Frau
Nirlanger's light figure flitting just ahead of him. At
the bend in the stairway she turned and looked down on us
a moment, her eyes very bright and big. She pressed her
fingers to her lips and wafted a little kiss toward us
with a gesture indescribably graceful and pathetic.
She viewed her husband's laborious progress, not
daring to offer help. Then the turn in the stair hid her
from sight.

In the dim quiet of the little hallway Von Gerhard
held out his hands--those deft, manual hands--those
steady, sure, surgeonly hands--hands to cling to, to
steady oneself by, and because I needed them most just
then, and because I longed with my whole soul to place
both my weary hands in those strong capable ones and to
bring those dear, cool, sane fingers up to my burning
cheeks, I put one foot on the first stair and held out
two chilly fingertips. "Good-night, Herr Doktor," I
said, "and thank you, not only for myself, but for her.
I have felt what she feels to-night. It is not a
pleasant thing to be ashamed of one's husband."

Von Gerhard's two hands closed over that one of mine.
"Dawn, you will let me help you to find comfortable
quarters? You cannot tramp about from place to place all
the week. Let us get a list of addresses, and then, with
the machine, we can drive from one to the other in an
hour. It will at least save you time and strength."

"Go boarding-house hunting in a stunning green
automobile!" I exclaimed. From my vantage point on the
steps I could look down on him, and there came over me a
great longing to run my fingers gently through that
crisp blond hair, and to
bring his head down close against my breast for one
exquisite moment. So--"Landladies and oitermobiles!" I
laughed. "Never! Don't you know that if they got one
glimpse, through the front parlor windows, of me stepping
grand-like out of your, green motor car, they would
promptly over-charge me for any room in the house? I
shall go room-hunting in my oldest hat, with one finger
sticking out of my glove."

Von Gerhard shrugged despairing shoulders.

"Na, of what use is it to plead with you. Sometimes
I wonder if, after all, you are not merely amusing
yourself. Getting copy, perhaps, for the book, or a new
experience to add to your already varied store."

Abruptly I turned to hide my pain, and began to
ascend the stairs. With a bound Von Gerhard was beside
me, his face drawn and contrite.

"Forgive me, Dawn! I know that you are wisest. It
is only that I become a little mad, I think, when I see
you battling alone like this, among strangers, and know
that I have not the right to help you. I knew not what
I was saying. Come, raise your eyes and smile, like the
little Soldatin that you are. So. Now I am forgiven,

I smiled cheerily enough into his blue eyes. "Quite
forgiven. And now you must run along. This is
scandalously late. The aborigines will be along saying
`Morgen!' instead of `Nabben'!' if we stay here much
longer. Good-night."

"You will give me your new address as soon as you
have found a satisfactory home?"

"Never fear! I probably shall be pestering you with
telephone calls, urging you to have pity upon me in my
loneliness. Now goodnight again. I'm as full of
farewells as a Bernhardt." And to end it I ran up the
stairs. At the bend, just where Frau Nirlanger had
turned, I too stopped and looked over my shoulder. Von
Gerhard was standing as I had left him, looking up at me.
And like Frau Nirlanger, I wafted a little kiss in his
direction, before I allowed the bend in the stairs to cut
off my view. But Von Gerhard did not signify by look or
word that he had seen it, as he stood looking up at me,
one strong white hand resting on the broad baluster.

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Dawn O'hara, The Girl Who Laughed - Chapter XVI - JUNE MOONLIGHT, AND A NEW BOARDING HOUSE
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