he looked in the mist, like a big bird flapping its
wings; there was a good smell of coffee, and I sneezed.
How the fellow started! But presently he took
a pitchfork and prodded the straw. Then I stood
up. I couldn’t help laughing, he was so
surprised—a huge, dark man, with a great
black beard. I pointed to the fire and said
‘Give me some, brother!’ He pulled me out
of the straw; I was so stiff, I couldn’t move.
I sat by the fire, and ate black bread and turnips,
and drank coffee; while he stood by, watching me and
muttering. I couldn’t understand him well—he
spoke a dialect from Hungary. He asked me:
How I got there—who I was—where
I was from? I looked up in his face, and he
looked down at me, sucking his pipe. He was
a big man, he lived alone on the river, and I was tired
of telling lies, so I told him the whole thing.
When I had done he just grunted. I can see
him now standing over me, with the mist hanging in
his beard, and his great naked arms. He drew
me some water, and I washed and showed him my wig
and moustache, and threw them overboard. All
that day we lay out on the barge in the mist, with
our feet to the fire, smoking; now and then he would
spit into the ashes and mutter into his beard.
I shall never forget that day. The steamer
was like a monster with fiery nostrils, and the other
barges were dumb creatures with eyes, where the fires
were; we couldn’t see the bank, but now and then
a bluff and high trees, or a castle, showed in the
mist. If I had only had paint and canvas that
day!” He sighed.
“It was early Spring, and the river was in flood;
they were going to Regensburg to unload there, take
fresh cargo, and back to Linz. As soon as the
mist began to clear, the bargeman hid me in the straw.
At Passau was the frontier; they lay there for the
night, but nothing happened, and I slept in the straw.
The next day I lay out on the barge deck; there was
no mist, but I was free—the sun shone gold
on the straw and the green sacking; the water seemed
to dance, and I laughed—I laughed all the
time, and the barge man laughed with me. A fine
fellow he was! At Regensburg I helped them to
unload; for more than a week we worked; they nicknamed
me baldhead, and when it was all over I gave the money
I earned for the unloading to the big bargeman.
We kissed each other at parting. I had still
three of the gulden that Luigi gave me, and I went
to a house-painter and got work with him. For
six months I stayed there to save money; then I wrote
to my mother’s cousin in Vienna, and told him
I was going to London. He gave me an introduction
to some friends there. I went to Hamburg, and
from there to London in a cargo steamer, and I’ve
never been back till now.”
After a minute’s silence Christian said in a
startled voice: “They could arrest you
“If they knew; but it’s seven years ago.”