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Adler, Philip A. (ed.) / The Wisconsin literary magazine
Volume XVI, Number 4 (January 1917)

Forbes, Esther
Underexposed,   pp. 113-114


Page 113

WISCONSIN LITERARY MAGAZINE
113
Underexposed
IN CHILDHOOD one is supposed to learn the les-
son, "do not pat strange animals; do not pet them
or poke them or pull their tails; but of all things, do
not plague them when they are crouched to spring,
even if they are as motionless as sleepy kittens." There
was a young lady from Philadelphia who found an
enormous animal very motionless in its corner of Eu-
rope. It looked asleep and was about to spring.
She did not pat the animal, instead she pulled its
whiskers, and then saw the fangs, the claws, and
looked through the blood-shot eyes into a terrible soul.
In the spring of 1914 the young lady and her aunt
could have been tracked across Italy into southern Aus-
tria by these names left on hotel registers, "Jessica
Rommilly, Rose Rommilly, Philadelphia, U. S. A."
Rose could also have been tracked by the discarded
film-roll boxes. She was an inveterate photographer.
A Russian, also a photographer, whom she met in
Rome, had pointed out to her that his government
wanted certain pictures of spots on her route. He
had failed to get them, being as he was a man and a
Russian, but she was a very, very charming American
girl-perhaps? This scheme appealed strongly to
Rose's sense of adventure and to her humor. These
European nations had such school-ma'amish restric-
tions. So she entered Austria with some dangerous
lists and a purpose in her Austrian trip never guessed
by Aunt Jessica. Aunt Jessica's purpose was to
write a book on the country to be illustrated by Rose's
photographs.
The two were in the most southern of all Austrian
cities-Cattaro, where it is forbidden to take photo-
graphs. Miss Rommilly took a day off from seeing
to write up her impressions, and Rose went to the din-
ing-room alone. On the threshold she stopped. A
cloud fell across her beautiful, frank face that face
which the Russian knew was a fortune for amateur
spying. The room did not look like a hotel dining-
room. There were no women, and every man wore
the uniform of the Austrian army. It was the flattest,
greyest room conceivable. Six tables, shrouded in
dirty cloths, went down the middle and around these
the men were grouped, eating, smoking, talking quietly.
Grey was the only color in that room; grey of
the floor, of the dull field uniforms, of the dirty cloths,
and higher up the greyness turned bluish as the-tobacco
smoke lay flatly on the air as solid lies on solid. The
head waiter, entering with beer for the officers, saw his
legitimate prey, an American, and rushed for her.
"I will show the Fraillein to a seat, yes?"
"But," Rose protested, "is this the hotel dining-
room or is it an officers' mess?"
"It is a ver-ry fine salle a manger. It surprises
Frailein to see so many military. You see they must
eat somewhere, must live. Of late so many come to
Cattaro there is no longer room in the old barracks.
Now I show you a nice quiet seat?"
"First there is a tray to go to Miss Rommilly, room
eight." The man produced a tattered menu in Serbo-
Croatian and German.
"Yes," he encouraged.
"I think she would like an omelette, if you can make
it without any garlic. Potato soup and a chocolate
torte, and a bottle of Gieshubbler."
"It is sent immediate. And perhaps a little tomato
with the omelette." Before she could answer he
dove for the kitchen; those tomatoes would never keep
another day.
Rose found herself stranded in the middle of the
room with no empty table to go to. "I must sit down
somewhere," she mused, "must pick out someone to
sit beside. It is just like a leap-year dance."  Every
eye had watched her as she had given the order, now
they courteously turned away. Business-like young
fellows they seemed, in spite of a debonair smartness
of uniform and carriage. By a window sat one no
longer young, and far from debonair. He presumed
on these facts to motion to the empty seat beside him.
A slight smile rippled over his massive face. He was
a comical old chap, fat and ruddy, ferocious in the
moustache but friendly in the eye. Rose also smiled.
As he stood and bowed to greet his guest the napkin
which was wedged between his double chin and
braided collar, hung down pedant, which fact, con-
sidering the build of the general, showed the earnest-
ness of the bow. One hand pointed to a seat, the other
held something against his thigh, some small animal-a
cat. She had been sitting on his lap, and as he rose he
tried not to lose her. Rose tried not to laugh.
"Thank you," she murmured.
"You are welcome one hundred times." He and
the cat resumed their seats. The man looked at the
young girl very attentively, almost rudely, as if he in-
tended to read her through at one sitting and then
never need to look at her again except for pleasure.
She was not his idea of a pallid, nervous American girl.
He felt the simplicity in her and the youth and the
charm, and he liked all three. The Maltese cat began
to purr, and Rose, glancing up, spoke to her. The
general beamed.
"Dat cat," he observed, "can do that which seems
impossible. She sits in my lap-not one of these con-
ceited lieutenants could do so. They think I haven't
January,191-7


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