HOTEL METROPOLE, VIENNA, Feb. 3, '98. DEAR JOE, There's that letter that I began so long ago--you see how it is: can't get time to finish anything. I pile up lots of work, nevertheless. There may be idle people in the world, but I'm not one of them. I say "Private" up there because I've got an adventure to tell, and you mustn't let a breath of it get out. First I thought I would lay it up along with a thousand others that I've laid up for the same purpose--to talk to you about, but--those others have vanished out of my memory; and that must not happen with this.
The other night I lectured for a Vienna charity; and at the end of it Livy and I were introduced to a princess who is aunt to the heir apparent of the imperial throne--a beautiful lady, with a beautiful spirit, and very cordial in her praises of my books and thanks to me for writing them; and glad to meet me face to face and shake me by the hand--just the kind of princess that adorns a fairy tale and makes it the prettiest tale there is.
Very well, we long ago found that when you are noticed by supremacies, the correct etiquette is to go, within a couple of days, and pay your respects in the quite simple form of writing your name in the Visitors' Book kept in the office of the establishment. That is the end of it, and everything is squared up and ship-shape.
So at noon today Livy and I drove to the Archducal palace, and got by the sentries all right, and asked the grandly-uniformed porter for the book and said we wished to write our names in it. And he called a servant in livery and was sending us up stairs; and said her Royal Highness was out but would soon be in. Of course Livy said "No--no--we only want the book;" but he was firm, and said, "You are Americans?"
"Then you are expected, please go up stairs."
"But indeed we are not expected--please let us have the book and--"
"Her Royal Highness will be back in a very little while--she commanded me to tell you so--and you must wait."
Well, the soldiers were there close by--there was no use trying to resist--so we followed the servant up; but when he tried to beguile us into a drawing-room, Livy drew the line; she wouldn't go in. And she wouldn't stay up there, either. She said the princess might come in at any moment and catch us, and it would be too infernally ridiculous for anything. So we went down stairs again--to my unspeakable regret. For it was too darling a comedy to spoil. I was hoping and praying the princess would come, and catch us up there, and that those other Americans who were expected would arrive, and be taken for impostors by the portier, and shot by the sentinels--and then it would all go into the papers, and be cabled all over the world, and make an immense stir and be perfectly lovely. And by that time the princess would discover that we were not the right ones, and the Minister of War would be ordered out, and the garrison, and they would come for us, and there would be another prodigious time, and that would get cabled too, and--well, Joe, I was in a state of perfect bliss. But happily, oh, so happily, that big portier wouldn't let us out--he was sorry, but he must obey orders--we must go back up stairs and wait. Poor Livy--I couldn't help but enjoy her distress. She said we were in a fix, and how were we going to explain, if the princess should arrive before the rightful Americans came? We went up stairs again--laid off our wraps, and were conducted through one drawing room and into another, and left alone there and the door closed upon us.