CHAPTER VI. GERMANY, AUSTRIA, AND HUNGARY.
While eating my first luncheon in Austria, at the village of Altheim, the village pedagogue informs me in good English that I am the first Briton he has ever had the pleasure of conversing with. He learned the language entirely from books, without a tutor, he says, learning it for pleasure solely, never expecting to utilize the accomplishment in any practical way. One hill after another characterizes my route to-day; the weather, which has hitherto remained reasonably mild, is turning hot and sultry, and, arriving at Hoag about five o'clock, I feel that I have done sufficient hillclimbing for one day. I have been wheeling through Austrian territory since 10.30 this morning, and, with observant eyes the whole distance, I have yet to see the first native, male or female, possessing in the least degree either a graceful figure or a prepossessing face. There has been a great horse-fair at Hoag to-day; the business of the day is concluded, and the principal occupation of the men, apart from drinking beer and smoking, appears to be frightening the women out of their wits by leading prancing horses as near them as possible.
My road, on leaving Hoag, is hilly, and the snowy heights of the Nordliche Kalkalpen (North Chalk Mountains), a range of the Austrian Alps, loom up ahead at an uncertain distance. To-day is what Americans call a "scorcher," and climbing hills among pine-woods, that shut out every passing breeze, is anything but exhilarating exercise with the thermometer hovering in the vicinity of one hundred degrees. The peasants are abroad in their fields as usual, but a goodly proportion are reclining beneath the trees. Reclining is, I think, a favorite pastime with the Austrian. The teamster, who happens to be wide awake and sees me approaching, knows instinctively that his team is going to scare at the bicycle, yet he makes no precautionary movements whatever, neither does he arouse himself from his lolling position until the horses or oxen begin to swerve around. As a usual thing the teamster is filling his pipe, which has a large, ungainly-looking, porcelain bowl, a long, straight wooden stem, and a crooked mouth-piece. Almost every Austrian peasant from sixteen years old upward carries one of these uncomely pipes.
The men here seem to be dull, uninteresting mortals, dressed in tight- fitting, and yet, somehow, ill-fitting, pantaloons, usually about three sizes too short, a small apron of blue ducking-an unbecoming garment that can only be described as a cross between a short jacket and a waistcoat - and a narrow-rimmed, prosy-looking billycock hat. The peasant women are the poetry of Austria, as of any other European country, and in their short red dresses and broad-brimmed, gypsy hats, they look picturesque and interesting in spite of homely faces and ungraceful figures. Riding into Lambach this morning, I am about wheeling past a horse and drag that, careless and Austrian-like, has been left untied and unwatched in the middle of the street, when the horse suddenly scares, swerves around just in front of me, and dashes, helter-skelter, down the street. The horse circles around the market square and finally stops of his own accord without doing any damage. Runaways, other misfortunes, it seems, never come singly, and ere I have left Lambach an hour I am the innocent cause of yet another one; this time it is a large, powerful work-dog, who becomes excited upon meeting me along the road, and upsets things in the most lively manner. Small carts pulled by dogs are common vehicles here and this one is met coming up an incline, the man considerately giving the animal a lift. A life of drudgery breaks the spirit of these work-dogs and makes them cowardly and cringing. At my approach this one howls, and swerves suddenly around with a rush that upsets both man and cart, topsy-turvy, into the ditch, and the last glimpse of the rumpus obtained, as I sweep past and down the hill beyond, is the man pawing the air with his naked feet and the dog struggling to free himself from the entangling harness.
Up among the hills, at the village of Strenburg, night arrives at a very opportune moment to-day, for Strenburg proves a nice, sociable sort of village, where the doctor can speak good English and plays the role of interpreter for me at the gasthaus. The school-ma'am, a vivacious Italian lady, in addition to French and German, can also speak a few words of English, though she persistently refers to herself as the " school -master." She boards at the same gasthaus, and all the evening long I am favored by the liveliest prattle and most charming gesticulations imaginable, while the room is half filled with her class of young lady aspirants to linguistic accomplishments, listening to our amusing, if not instructive, efforts to carry on a conversation. ' It is altogether a most enjoyable evening, and on parting I am requested to write when I get around the world and tell the Strenburgers all that I have seen and experienced. On top of the gasthaus is a rude observatory, and before starting I take a view of the country. The outlook is magnificent; the Austrian Alps are towering skyward to the southeast, rearing snow-crowned heads out from among a billowy sea of pine-covered hills, and to the northward is the lovely valley of the Danube, the river glistening softly through the morning haze.