Around the World on a Bicycle

In 1884, the 29 year old Thomas Stevens set out from San Fransisco on the 'modern mechanical invention' of the Penny Farthing to circumnavigate the globe on his 'big wheel'. His book - "Around the World on a Bicycle" - was published in 1888 and his writings are presented here in blog form. Read more in the archive.

The girl I left behind me

Such is the reverie into which I fall while reclining beneath a spreading mulberry-tree waiting for Igali to catch up; for he has promised that I shall see the Slavonian national dance sometime to-day, and a village is now visible in the distance. At the Danube-side village of Hamenitz an hour's halt is decided upon to give me the promised opportunity of witnessing the dance in its native land. It is a novel and interesting sight. A round hundred young gallants and maidens are rigged out in finery such as no other people save the Croatian and Slavonian peasants ever wear - the young men braided and embroidered, and the damsels having their hair entwined with a profusion of natural flowers in addition to their costumes of all possible hues. Forming themselves into a large ring, distributed so that the sexes alternate, the young men extend and join their hands in front of the maidens, and the latter join hands behind their partners; the steel-strung tamboricas strike up a lively twanging air, to which the circle of dancers endeavor to shuffle time with their feet, while at the same time moving around in a circle Livelier and faster twang the tamboricas, and more and more animated becomes the scene as the dancing, shuffling ring endeavors to keep pace with it. As the fun progresses into the fast and furious stages the youths' hats have a knack of getting into a jaunty position on the side of their heads, and the wearers' faces assume a reckless, flushed appearance, like men half intoxicated while the maidens' bright eyes and beaming faces betoken unutterable happiness; finally the music and the shuffling of feet terminate with a rapid flourish, everybody kisses everybody - save, of course, mere luckless onlookers like Igali and myself - and the Slavonian national dance is ended.

To-night we reach the strongly fortified town of Peterwardein, opposite which, just across a pontoon bridge spanning the Danube, is the larger city of Neusatz. At Hamenitz we met Professor Zaubaur, the editor of the Uj Videk, who came down the Danube ahead of us by steamboat; and now, after housing our machines at our gasthaus in Peterwardein, he pilots us across the pontoon bridge in the twilight, and into one of those wine- gardens so universal in this part of the world. Here at Neusatz I listen to the genuine Hungarian gypsy music for the last time on the European tour ere bidding the territory of Hungary adieu, for Neusatz is on the Hungarian side of the Danube. The professor has evidently let no grass grow beneath his feet since leaving us scarcely an hour ago at Hamenitz, for he has, in the mean time, ferreted out the only English-speaking person at present in town, the good Frau Schrieber, an Austrian lady, formerly of Vienna, but now at Neusatz with her husband, a well-known advocate. This lady talks English quite fluently. Though not yet twenty-five she is very, very wise, and among other things she informs her admiring friends gathered round about us, listening to the - to them - unintelligible flow of a foreign language, that Englishmen are "very grave beings," a piece of information that wrings from Igali a really sympathetic response- nothing less than the startling announcement that he hasn't seen me smile since we left Budapest together, a week ago. "Having seen the Slavonian, I ought by all means to see the Hungarian national dance," Frau Schrieber says; adding, "It is a nice dance for Englishmen to look at, though it is so very gay that English ladies would neither dance it nor look at it being danced." Ere parting company with this entertaining lady she agrees that, if I will but remain in Hungary permanently, she knows of a very handsome fraulein of sixteen summers, who, having heard of my "wonderful journey," is already predisposed in my favor, and with a little friendly tact and management on her - Frau Schrieber's - part would no doubt be willing to waive the formalities of a long courtship, and yield up hand and heart at my request. I can scarcely think of breaking in twain my trip around the world even for so tempting a prospect, and I recommend the fair Hungarian to Igali; but "the fraulein has never heard of Herr Igali, and he will not do."

"Will the fraulein be willing to wait until my journey around the world is completed."

"Yes; she vill vait mit much pleezure; I vill zee dat she vait; und I know you vill return, for an Englishman alvays forgets his promeezes." Henceforth, when Igali and myself enter upon a programme of whistling, "Yankee Doodle" is supplanted by "The girl I left behind me," much to his annoyance, since, not understanding the sentiment responsible for the change, bethinks "Yankee Doodle" a far better tune. So much attached, in fact, has Igali become to the American national air, that he informs the professor and editor of Uj Videk of the circumstance of the band playing it at Szekszard. As, after supper, several of us promenade the streets of Neusatz, the professor links his arm in mine, and, taking the cue from Igali, begs me to favor him by whistling it. I try my best to palm this patriotic duty off on Igali, by paying flattering compliments to his style of whistling; but, after all, the duty falls on me, and I whistle the tune softly, yet merrily, as we walk along, the professor, spectacled and wise-looking, meanwhile exchanging numerous nods of recognition with his fellow-Neusatzers we meet.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Monday 15th Jun 1885 (00:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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