Irvin S. Cobb
Prepared by Kirk Pearson email@example.com, with help from the volunteers at the Distributed Proofreaders project.
To My Small Daughter
Who bade me shed a tear at the tomb of Napoleon, which I was very glad to do, because when I got there my feet certainly were hurting me.
The picture on page 81 purporting to show the undersigned leaping head first into a German feather-bed does the undersigned a cruel injustice. He has a prettier figure than that—oh, oh, much prettier!
The reader is earnestly entreated not to look at the picture on page 81. It is the only blot on the McCutcheon of this book.
Foreword.—It has always seemed to me that the principal drawback about the average guidebook is that it is over-freighted with facts. Guidebooks heretofore have made a specialty of facts—have abounded in them; facts to be found on every page and in every paragraph. Reading such a work, you imagine that the besotted author said to himself, "I will just naturally fill this thing chock-full of facts"—and then went and did so to the extent of a prolonged debauch.
Now personally I would be the last one in the world to decry facts as such. In the abstract I have the highest opinion of them. But facts, as someone has said, are stubborn things; and stubborn things, like stubborn people, are frequently tiresome. So it occurred to me that possibly there might be room for a guidebook on foreign travel which would not have a single indubitable fact concealed anywhere about its person. I have even dared to hope there might be an actual demand on the part of the general public for such a guidebook. I shall endeavor to meet that desire—if it exists.
While we are on the subject I wish to say there is probably not a statement made by me here or hereafter which cannot readily be controverted. Communications from parties desiring to controvert this or that assertion will be considered in the order received. The line forms on the left and parties will kindly avoid crowding. Triflers and professional controverters save stamps.
With these few introductory remarks we now proceed to the first subject, which is The Sea: Its Habits and Peculiarities, and the Quaint Creatures Found upon Its Bosom.
From the very start of this expedition to Europe I labored under a misapprehension. Everybody told me that as soon as I had got my sea legs I would begin to love the sea with a vast and passionate love. As a matter of fact I experienced no trouble whatever in getting my sea legs. They were my regular legs, the same ones I use on land. It was my sea stomach that caused all the bother. First I was afraid I should not get it, and that worried me no little. Then I got it and was regretful. However, that detail will come up later in a more suitable place. I am concerned now with the departure.
Somewhere forward a bugle blares; somewhere rearward a bell jangles. On the deck overhead is a scurry of feet. In the mysterious bowels of the ship a mighty mechanism opens its metal mouth and speaks out briskly. Later it will talk on steadily, with a measured and a regular voice; but now it is heard frequently, yet intermittently, like the click of a blind man's cane. Beneath your feet the ship, which has seemed until this moment as solid as a rock, stirs the least little bit, as though it had waked up. And now a shiver runs all through it and you are reminded of that passage from Pygmalion and Galatea where Pygmalion says with such feeling:
She starts; she moves; she seems to feel the thrill of life along her keel.
You are under way. You are finally committed to the great adventure. The necessary good-bys have already been said. Those who in the goodness of their hearts came to see you off have departed for shore, leaving sundry suitable and unsuitable gifts behind. You have examined your stateroom, with its hot and cold decorations, its running stewardess, its all-night throb service, and its windows overlooking the Hudson—a stateroom that seemed so large and commodious until you put one small submissive steamer trunk and two scared valises in it. You are tired, and yon white bed, with the high mudguards on it, looks mighty good to you; but you feel that you must go on deck to wave a fond farewell to the land you love and the friends you are leaving behind.
You fight your way to the open through companionways full of frenzied persons who are apparently trying to travel in every direction at once. On the deck the illusion persists that it is the dock that is moving and the ship that is standing still. All about you your fellow passengers crowd the rails, waving and shouting messages to the people on the dock; the people on the dock wave back and shout answers. About every other person is begging somebody to tell auntie to be sure to write. You gather that auntie will be expected to write weekly, if not oftener.
As the slice of dark water between boat and dock widens, those who are left behind begin running toward the pierhead in such numbers that each wide, bright-lit door-opening in turn suggests a flittering section of a moving-picture film. The only perfectly calm person in sight is a gorgeous, gold-laced creature standing on the outermost gunwale of the dock, wearing the kind of uniform that a rear admiral of the Swiss navy would wear—if the Swiss had any navy—and holding a speaking trumpet in his hand. This person is not excited, for he sends thirty-odd-thousand-ton ships off to Europe at frequent intervals, and so he is impressively and importantly blase about it; but everybody else is excited. You find yourself rather that way. You wave at persons you know and then at persons you do not know.
You continue to wave until the man alongside you, who has spent years of his life learning to imitate a siren whistle with his face, suddenly twines his hands about his mouth and lets go a terrific blast right in your ear. Something seems to warn you that you are not going to care for this man.
The pier, ceasing to be a long, outstretched finger, seems to fold back into itself, knuckle-fashion, and presently is but a part of the oddly foreshortened shoreline, distinguishable only by the black dot of watchers clustered under a battery of lights, like a swarm of hiving bees. Out in midstream the tugs, which have been convoying the ship, let go of her and scuttle off, one in this direction and one in that, like a brace of teal ducks getting out of a walrus' way.
Almost imperceptibly her nose straightens down the river and soon on the starboard quarter—how quickly one picks up these nautical terms!—looming through the harbor mists, you behold the statue of Miss Liberty, in her popular specialty of enlightening the world. So you go below and turn in. Anyway, that is what I did; for certain of the larger ships of the Cunard line sail at midnight or even later, and this was such a ship.
For some hours I lay awake, while above me and below me and all about me the boat settled down to her ordained ship's job, and began drawing the long, soothing snores that for five days and nights she was to continue drawing without cessation. There were so many things to think over. I tried to remember all the authoritative and conflicting advice that hadbeen offered to me by traveled friends and well-wishers.
Let's see, now: On shipboard I was to wear only light clothes, because nobody ever caught cold at sea. I was to wear the heaviest clothes I had, because the landlubber always caught cold at sea. I was to tip only those who served me. I was to tip all hands in moderation, whether they served me or not. If I felt squeamish I was to do the following things: Eat something. Quit eating. Drink something. Quit drinking. Stay on deck. Go below and lie perfectly flat. Seek company. Avoid same. Give it up. Keep it down.
There was but one point on which all of them were agreed. On no account should I miss Naples; I must see Naples if I did not see another solitary thing in Europe. Well, I did both—I saw Naples; and now I should not miss Naples if I never saw it again, and I do not think I shall. As regards the other suggestions these friends of mine gave me, I learned in time that all of them were right and all of them were wrong.
For example, there was the matter of a correct traveling costume. Between seasons on the Atlantic one wears what best pleases one. One sees at the same time women in furs and summer boys in white ducks. Tweed-enshrouded Englishmen and linen-clad American girls promenade together, giving to the decks that pleasing air of variety and individuality of apparel only to be found in southern California during the winter, and in those orthodox pictures in the book of Robinson Crusoe, where Robinson is depicted as completely wrapped up in goatskins, while Man Friday is pirouetting round as nude as a raw oyster and both of them are perfectly comfortable. I used to wonder how Robinson and Friday did it. Since taking an ocean trip I understand perfectly. I could do it myself now.
There certainly were a lot of things to think over. I do not recall now exactly the moment when I ceased thinking them over. A blank that was measurable by hours ensued. I woke from a dream about a scrambled egg, in which I was the egg, to find that morning had arrived and the ship was behaving naughtily.
Here was a ship almost as long as Main Street is back home, and six stories high, with an English basement; with restaurants and elevators and retail stores in her; and she was as broad as a courthouse; and while lying at the dock she had appeared to be about the most solid and dependable thing in creation—and yet in just a few hours' time she had altered her whole nature, and was rolling and sliding and charging and snorting like a warhorse. It was astonishing in the extreme, and you would not have expected it of her.
Even as I focused my mind on this phenomenon the doorway was stealthily entered by a small man in a uniform that made him look something like an Eton schoolboy and something like a waiter in a dairy lunch. I was about to have the first illuminating experience with an English manservant. This was my bedroom steward, by name Lubly—William Lubly. My hat is off to William Lubly—to him and to all his kind. He was always on duty; he never seemed to sleep; he was always in a good humor, and he always thought of the very thing you wanted just a moment or two before you thought of it yourself, and came a-running and fetched it to you. Now he was softly stealing in to close my port. As he screwed the round, brass-faced window fast he glanced my way and caught my apprehensive eye.
"Good morning, sir," he said, and said it in such a way as to convey a subtle compliment.
"Is it getting rough outside?" I said—I knew about the inside. "Thank you," he said; "the sea 'as got up a bit, sir—thank you, sir."
I was gratified—nay more, I was flattered. And it was so delicately done too. I really did not have the heart to tell him that I was not solely responsible—that I had, so to speak, collaborators; but Lubly stood ready always to accord me a proper amount of recognition for everything that happened on that ship. Only the next day, I think it was, I asked him where we were. This occurred on deck. He had just answered a lady who wanted to know whether we should have good weather on the day we landed at Fishguard and whether we should get in on time. Without a moment's hesitation he told her; and then he turned to me with the air of giving credit where credit is due, and said:
"Thank you, sir—we are just off the Banks, thank you."
Lubly ran true to form. The British serving classes are ever like that, whether met with at sea or on their native soil. They are a great and a noble institution. Give an English servant a kind word and he thanks you. Give him a harsh word and he still thanks you. Ask a question of a London policeman—he tells you fully and then he thanks you. Go into an English shop and buy something—the clerk who serves you thanks you with enthusiasm. Go in and fail to buy something—he still thanks you, but without the enthusiasm.
One kind of Englishman says Thank you, sir; and one kind—the Cockney who has been educated—says Thenks; but the majority brief it into a short but expressive expletive and merely say: Kew. Kew is the commonest word in the British Isles. Stroidinary runs it a close second, but Kew comes first. You hear it everywhere. Hence Kew Gardens; they are named for it.
All the types that travel on a big English-owned ship were on ours. I take it that there is a requirement in the maritime regulations to the effect that the set must be complete before a ship may put to sea. To begin with, there was a member of a British legation from somewhere going home on leave, for a holiday, or a funeral. At least I heard it was a holiday, but I should have said he was going home for the other occasion. He wore an Honorable attached to the front of his name and carried several extra initials behind in the rumble; and he was filled up with that true British reserve which a certain sort of Britisher always develops while traveling in foreign lands. He was upward of seven feet tall, as the crow flies, and very thin and rigid.
Viewing him, you got the impression that his framework all ran straight up and down, like the wires in a bird cage, with barely enough perches extending across from side to side to keep him from caving in and crushing the canaries to death. On second thought I judge I had better make this comparison in the singular number —there would not have been room in him for more than one canary.
Every morning for an hour, and again every afternoon for an hour, he marched solemnly round and round the promenade deck, always alone and always with his mournful gaze fixed on the far horizon. As I said before, however, he stood very high in the air, and it may have been he feared, if he ever did look down at his feet, he should turn dizzy and be seized with an uncontrollable desire to leap off and end all; so I am not blaming him for that.
He would walk his hour out to the sixtieth second of the sixtieth minute and then he would sit in his steamer chair, as silent as a glacier and as inaccessible as one. If it were afternoon he would have his tea at five o'clock and then, with his soul still full of cracked ice, he would go below and dress for dinner; but he never spoke to anyone. His steamer chair was right-hand chair to mine and often we practically touched elbows; but he did not see me once.
I had a terrible thought. Suppose now, I said to myself—just suppose that this ship were to sink and only we two were saved; and suppose we were cast away on a desert island and spent years and years there, never knowing each other's name and never mingling together socially until the rescue ship came along—and not even then unless there was some mutual acquaintance aboard her to introduce us properly! It was indeed a frightful thought! It made me shudder.
Among our company was a younger son going home after a tour of the Colonies—Canada and Australia, and all that sort of bally rot. I believe there is always at least one younger son on every well-conducted English boat; the family keeps him on a remittance and seems to feel easier in its mind when he is traveling. The British statesman who said the sun never sets on British possessions spoke the truth, but the reporters in committing his memorable utterance to paper spelt the keyword wrong—undoubtedly he meant the other kind—the younger kind.
This particular example of the species was in every way up to grade and sample. A happy combination of open air, open pores and open casegoods gave to his face the exact color of a slice of rare roast beef; it also had the expression of one. With a dab of English mustard in the lobe of one ear and a savory bit of watercress stuck in his hair for a garnish, he could have passed anywhere for a slice of cold roast beef.
He was reasonably exclusive too. Not until the day we landed did he and the Honorable member of the legation learn—quite by chance —that they were third cousins—or something of that sort—to one another. And so, after the relationship had been thoroughly established through the kindly offices of a third party, they fraternized to the extent of riding up to London on the same boat-train, merely using different compartments of different carriages. The English aristocrat is a tolerably social animal when traveling; but, at the same time, he does not carry his sociability to an excess. He shows restraint.
Also, we had with us the elderly gentleman of impaired disposition, who had crossed thirty times before and was now completing his thirty-first trip, and getting madder and madder about it every minute. I saw him only with his clothes on; but I should say, speaking offhand, that he had at least fourteen rattles and a button. His poison sacs hung 'way down. Others may have taken them for dewlaps, but I knew better; they were poison sacs.
It was quite apparent that he abhorred the very idea of having to cross to Europe on the same ocean with the rest of us, let alone on the same ship. And for persons who were taking their first trip abroad his contempt was absolutely unutterable; he choked at the bare mention of such a criminal's name and offense. You would hear him communing with himself and a Scotch and soda.
"Bah!" he would say bitterly, addressing the soda-bottle. "These idiots who've never been anywhere talking about this being rough weather! Rough weather, mind you! Bah! People shouldn't be allowed to go to sea until they know something about it. Bah!"
By the fourth day out his gums were as blue as indigo, and he was so swelled up with his own venom he looked dropsical. I judged his bite would have caused death in from twelve to fourteen minutes, preceded by coma and convulsive rigors. We called him old Colonel Gila Monster or Judge Stinging Lizard, for short.
There was the spry and conversational gentleman who looked like an Englishman, but was of the type commonly denominated in our own land as breezy. So he could not have been an Englishman. Once in a while there comes along an Englishman who is windy, and frequently you meet one who is drafty; but there was never a breezy Englishman yet.
With that interest in other people's business which the close communion of a ship so promptly breeds in most of us, we fell to wondering who and what he might be; but the minute the suspect came into the salon for dinner the first night out I read his secret at a glance. He belonged to a refined song-and-dance team doing sketches in vaudeville. He could not have been anything else—he had jet buttons on his evening clothes.
There was the young woman—she had elocutionary talents, it turned out afterward, and had graduated with honors from a school of expression—who assisted in getting up the ship's concert and then took part in it, both of those acts being mistakes on her part, as it proved.
And there was the official he-beauty of the ship. He was without a wrinkle in his clothes—or his mind either; and he managed to maneuver so that when he sat in the smoking room he always faced a mirror. That was company enough for him. He never grew lonely or bored then. Only one night he discovered something wrong about one of his eyebrows. He gave a pained start; and then, oblivious of those of us who hovered about enjoying the spectacle, he spent a long time working with the blemish. The eyebrow was stubborn, though, and he just couldn't make it behave; so he grew petulant and fretful, and finally went away to bed in a huff. Had it not been for fear of stopping his watch, I am sure he would have slapped himself on the wrist.
This fair youth was one of the delights of the voyage. One felt that if he had merely a pair of tweezers and a mustache comb and a hand glass he would never, never be at a loss for a solution of the problem that worries so many writers for the farm journals—a way to spend the long winter evenings pleasantly.
Of course, we had a bridal couple and a troupe of professional deep-sea fishermen aboard. We just naturally had to have them. Without them, I doubt whether the ship could have sailed. The bridal couple were from somewhere in the central part of Ohio and they were taking their honeymoon tour; but, if I were a bridal couple from the central part of Ohio and had never been to sea before, as was the case in this particular instance, I should take my honeymoon ashore and keep it there. I most certainly should! This couple of ours came aboard billing and cooing to beat the lovebirds. They made it plain to all that they had just been married and were proud of it. Their baggage was brand-new, and the groom's shoes were shiny with that pristine shininess which, once destroyed, can never be restored; and the bride wore her going-and-giving-away outfit.
Just prior to sailing and on the morning after they were all over the ship. Everywhere you went you seemed to meet them and they were always wrestling. You entered a quiet side passage—there they were, exchanging a kiss—one of the long-drawn, deep-siphoned, sirupy kind. You stepped into the writing room thinking to find it deserted, and at sight of you they broke grips and sprang apart, eyeing you like a pair of startled fawns surprised by the cruel huntsman in a forest glade. At all other times, though, they had eyes but for each other.
A day came, however—and it was the second day out—when they were among the missing. For two days and two nights, while the good ship floundered on the tempestuous bosom of the overwrought ocean, they were gone from human ken. On the afternoon of the third day, the sea being calmer now, but still sufficiently rough to satisfy the most exacting, a few hardy and convalescent souls sat in a shawl-wrapped row on the lee side of the ship.
There came two stewards, bearing with them pillows and blankets and rugs. These articles were disposed to advantage in two steamer chairs. Then the stewards hurried away; but presently they reappeared, dragging the limp and dangling forms of the bridal couple from the central part of Ohio. But oh, my countrymen, what a spectacle! And what a change from what had been!
The going-away gown was wrinkled, as though worn for a period of time by one suddenly and sorely stricken in the midst of health. The bride's once well-coifed hair hung in lank disarray about a face that was the color of prime old sage cheese—yellow, with a fleck of green here and there—and in her wan and rolling eye was the hunted look of one who hears something unpleasant stirring a long way off and fears it is coming this way.
Side by side the stewards stretched them prone on their chairs and tucked them in. Her face was turned from him. For some time both of them lay there without visible signs of life—just two muffled, misery-stricken heaps. Then, slowly and languidly, the youth stretched forth an arm from his wrappings and fingered the swaddling folds that enveloped the form of his beloved.
It may have been he thought it was about time to begin picking the coverlid, or it may have been the promptings of reawakened romance, once more feebly astir within his bosom. At any rate, gently and softly, his hand fell on the rug about where her shoulder ought to be. She still had life enough left in her to shake it off—and she did. Hurt, he waited a moment, then caressed her again. "Stop that!" she cried in a low but venomous tone. "Don't you dare touch me!"
So he touched her no more, but only lay there mute and motionless; and from his look one might plumb the sorrows of his soul and know how shocked he was, and how grieved and heartstricken! Love's young dream was o'er! He had thought she loved him, but now he knew better. Their marriage had been a terrible mistake and he would give her back her freedom; he would give it back to her as soon as he was able to sit up. Thus one interpreted his expression.
On the day we landed, however, they were seen again. We were nosing northward through a dimpled duckpond of a sea, with the Welsh coast on one side and Ireland just over the way. People who had not been seen during the voyage came up to breathe, wearing the air of persons who had just returned from the valley of the shadow and were mighty glad to be back; and with those others came our bridal couple.
I inadvertently stumbled on them in an obscure companionway. Their cheeks again wore the bloom of youth and health, and they were in a tight clinch; it was indeed a pretty sight. Love had returned on roseate pinions and the honeymoon had been resumed at the point where postponed on account of bad weather.
They had not been seasick, though. I heard them say so. They had been indisposed, possibly from something they had eaten; but they had not been seasick. Well, I had my own periods of indisposition going over; and if it had been seasickness I should not hesitate a moment about coming right out and saying so. In these matters I believe in being absolutely frank and aboveboard. For the life of me I cannot understand why people will dissemble and lie about this thing of being seasick. To me their attitude is a source of constant wonderment.
On land the average person is reasonably proud of having been sick—after he begins to get better. It gives him something to talk about. The pale and interesting invalid invariably commands respect ashore. In my own list of acquaintances I number several persons—mainly widowed ladies with satisfactory incomes—who never feel well unless they are ill. In the old days they would have had resort to patent medicines and the family lot at Laurel Grove Cemetery; but now they go in for rest cures and sea voyages, and the baths at Carlsbad and specialists, these same being main contributing causes to the present high cost of living, and also helping to explain what becomes of some of those large life-insurance policies you read about. Possibly you know the type I am describing—the lady who, when planning where she will spend the summer, sends for catalogues from all the leading sanatoriums. We had one such person with us.
She had been surgically remodeled so many times that she dated everything from her last operation. At least six times in her life she had been down with something that was absolutely incurable, and she was now going to Homburg to have one of the newest and most fatal German diseases in its native haunts, where it would be at its best. She herself said that she was but a mere shell; and for the first few meals she ate like one—like a large, empty shell with plenty of curves inside it.
However, when, after a subsequent period of seclusion, she emerged from her stateroom wearing the same disheveled look that Jonah must have worn when he and the whale parted company, do you think she would confess she had been seasick? Not by any means! She said she had had a raging headache. But she could not fool me. She had the stateroom next to mine and I had heard what I had heard. She was from near Boston and she had the near-Boston accent; and she was the only person I ever met who was seasick with the broad A.
Personally I abhor those evasions, which deceive no one. If I had been seasick I should not deny it here or elsewhere. For a time I thought I was seasick. I know now I was wrong—but I thought so. There was something about the sardels served at lunch—their look or their smell or something—which seemed to make them distasteful to me; and I excused myself from the company at the table and went up and out into the open air. But the deck was unpleasantly congested with great burly brutes—beefy, carnivorous, overfed creatures, gorged with victuals and smoking disgustingly strong black cigars, and grinning in an annoying and meaning sort of way every time they passed a body who preferred to lie quiet.
The rail was also moving up and down in a manner that was annoying and wearisome for the eye to watch—first tipping up and up and up until half the sky was hidden, then dipping down and down and down until the gray and heaving sea seemed ready to leap over the side and engulf us. So I decided to go below and jot down a few notes. On arriving at my quarters I changed my mind again. I decided to let the notes wait a while and turn in.
It is my usual custom when turning in to remove the left shoe as well as the right one and to put on my pajamas; but the pajamas were hanging on a hook away over on the opposite side of the stateroom, which had suddenly grown large and wide and full of great distances; and besides, I thought it was just as well to have the left shoe where I could put my hand on it when I needed it again. So I retired practically just as I was and endeavored, as per the admonitions of certain friends, to lie perfectly flat. No doubt this thing of lying flat is all very well for some people —but suppose a fellow has not that kind of a figure?
Nevertheless, I tried. I lay as flat as I could, but the indisposition persisted; in fact, it increased materially. The manner in which my pajamas, limp and pendent from that hook, swayed and swung back and forth became extremely distasteful to me; and if by mental treatment I could have removed them from there I should assuredly have done so. But that was impossible.
Along toward evening I began to think of food. I thought of it not from its gastronomic aspect, but rather in the capacity of ballast. I did not so much desire the taste of it as the feel of it. So I summoned Lubly—he, at least, did not smile at me in that patronizing, significant way—and ordered a dinner that included nearly everything on the dinner card except Lubly's thumb. The dinner was brought to me in relays and I ate it—ate it all! This step I know now was ill-advised. It is true that for a short time I felt as I imagine a python in a zoo feels when he is full of guinea-pigs—sort of gorged, you know, and sluggish, and only tolerably uncomfortable.
Then ensued the frightful denouement. It ensued almost without warning. At the time I felt absolutely positive that I was seasick. I would have sworn to it. If somebody had put a Bible on my chest and held it there I would cheerfully have laid my right hand on it and taken a solemn oath that I was seasick. Indeed,I believed I was so seasick that I feared—hoped, rather—I might never recover from it. All I desired at the moment was to get it over with as quickly and as neatly as possible.
As in the case of drowning persons, there passed in review before my eyes several of the more recent events of my past life—meals mostly. I shall, however, pass hastily over these distressing details, merely stating in parentheses, so to speak, that I did not remember those string-beans at all. I was positive then, and am yet, that I had not eaten string-beans for nearly a week. But enough of this!
I was sure I was seasick; and I am convinced any inexperienced bystander, had there been one there, would have been misled by my demeanor into regarding me as a seasick person—but it was a wrong diagnosis. The steward told me so himself when he called the next morning. He came and found me stretched prone on the bed of affliction; and he asked me how I felt, to which I replied with a low and hollow groan—tolerably low and exceedingly hollow. It could not have been any hollower if I had been a megaphone.
So he looked me over and told me that I had climate fever. We were passing through the Gulf Stream, where the water was warmer than elsewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, and I had a touch of climate fever. It was a very common complaint in that latitude; many persons suffered from it. The symptoms were akin to seasickness, it was true; yet the two maladies were in no way to be confused. As soon as we passed out of the Gulf Stream he felt sure I would be perfectly well. Meantime he would recommend that I get Lubly to take the rest of my things off and then remain perfectly quiet. He was right about it too.
Regardless of what one may think oneself, one is bound to accept the statement of an authority on this subject; and if a steward on a big liner, who has traveled back and forth across the ocean for years, is not an authority on climate fever, who is? I looked at it in that light. And sure enough, when we had passed out of the Gulf Stream and the sea had smoothed itself out, I made a speedy and satisfactory recovery; but if it had been seasickness I should have confessed it in a minute. I have no patience with those who quibble and equivocate in regard to their having been seasick.
I had one relapse—a short one, but painful. In an incautious moment, when I wist not wot I wotted, I accepted an invitation from the chief engineer to go below. We went below—miles and miles, I think—to where, standing on metal runways that were hot to the foot, overalled Scots ministered to the heart and the lungs and the bowels of that ship. Electricity spat cracklingly in our faces, and at our sides steel shafts as big as the pillars of a temple spun in coatings of spumy grease; and through the double skin of her we could hear, over our heads, a mighty Niagaralike churning as the slew-footed screws kicked us forward twenty-odd knots an hour. Someone raised the cover of a vat, and peering down into the opening we saw a small, vicious engine hard at work, entirely enveloped in twisty, coily, stewy depths of black oil, like a devil-fish writhing in sea-ooze and cuttle-juice.
So then we descended another mile or two to an inferno, full of naked, sooty devils forever feeding sulphurous pitfires in the nethermost parlors of the damned; but they said this was the stokehole; and I was in no condition to argue with them, for I had suddenly begun to realize that I was far from being a well person. As one peering through a glass darkly, I saw one of the attendant demons sluice his blistered bare breast with cold water, so that the sweat and grime ran from him in streams like ink; and peering in at a furnace door I saw a great angry sore of coals all scabbed and crusted over. Then another demon, wielding a nine-foot bar daintily as a surgeon wields a scalpel, reached in and stabbed it in the center, so that the fire burst through and gushed up red and rich, like blood from a wound newly lanced.
I had seen enough and to spare; but my guide brought me back by way of the steerage, in order that I might know how the other half lives. There was nothing here, either of smell or sight, to upset the human stomach—third class is better fed and better quartered now on those big ships than first class was in those good old early days—but I had held in as long as I could and now I relapsed. I relapsed in a vigorous manner—a whole-souled, boisterous manner. People halfway up the deck heard me relapsing, and I will warrant some of them were fooled too—they thought I was seasick.
It was due to my attack of climate fever that I missed the most exciting thing which happened on the voyage. I refer to the incident of the professional gamblers and the youth from Jersey City. From the very first there was one passenger who had been picked out by all the knowing passengers as a professional gambler; for he was the very spit-and-image of a professional gambler as we have learned to know him in story books. Did he not dress in plain black, without any jewelry? He certainly did. Did he not have those long, slender, flexible fingers? Such was, indeed, the correct description of those fingers. Was not his eye a keen steely-blue eye that seemed to have the power of looking right through you? Steely-blue was the right word, all right. Well, then, what more could you ask?
Behind his back sinister yet fascinating rumors circulated. He was the brilliant but unscrupulous scion of a haughty house in England. He had taken a first degree at Oxford, over there, and the third one at police headquarters, over here. Women simply could not resist him. Let him make up his mind to win a woman and she was a gone gosling. His picture was to be found in rogues' galleries and ladies' lockets. And sh-h-h! Listen! Everybody knew he was the identical crook who, disguised in woman's clothes, escaped in the last lifeboat that left the sinking Titanic. Who said so? Why—er—everybody said so!
It came as a grievous disappointment to all when we found out the truth, which was that he was the booking agent for a lyceum bureau, going abroad to sign up some foreign talent for next season's Chautauquas; and the only gambling he had ever done was on the chance of whether the Tyrolian Yodelers would draw better than our esteemed secretary of state—or vice versa.
Meantime the real professionals had established themselves cozily and comfortably aboard, had rigged the trap and cheese-baited it, and were waiting for the coming of one of the class that is born so numerously in this country. If you should be traveling this year on one of the large trans-Atlantic ships, and there should come aboard two young well-dressed men and shortly afterward a middle-aged well-dressed man with a flat nose, who was apparently a stranger to the first two; and if on the second night out in the smoking room, while the pool on the next day's run was being auctioned, one of the younger men, whom we will call Mr. Y, should appear to be slightly under the influence of malt, vinous or spirituous liquors—or all three of them at once—and should, without seeming provocation, insist on picking a quarrel with the middle-aged stranger, whom we will call Mr. Z; and if further along in the voyage Mr. Z should introduce himself to you and suggest a little game of auction bridge for small stakes in order to while away the tedium of travel; and if it should so fall out that Mr. Y and his friend Mr. X chanced to be the only available candidates for a foursome at this fascinating pursuit; and if Mr. Z, being still hostile toward the sobered and repentant Mr. Y, should decline to take on either Mr. Y or his friend X as a partner, but chose you instead; and if on the second or third deal you picked up your cards and found you had an apparently unbeatable hand and should bid accordingly; and Mr. X should double you; and Mr. Z, sitting across from you should come gallantly right back and redouble it; and Mr. Y, catching the spirit of the moment, should double again —and so on and so forth until each point, instead of being worth only a paltry cent or two, had accumulated a value of a good many cents—if all these things or most of them should befall in the order enumerated—why, then, if I were you, gentle reader, I would have a care. And I should leave that game and go somewhere else to have it too—lest a worse thing befall you as it befell the guileless young Jerseyman on our ship. After he had paid out a considerable sum on being beaten—by just one card—upon the playing of his seemingly unbeatable hand and after the haunting and elusive odor of eau de rodent had become plainly perceptible all over the ship, he began, as the saying goes, to smell a rat himself, and straightway declined to make good his remaining losses, amounting to quite a tidy amount. Following this there were high words, meaning by that low ones, and accusations and recriminations, and at eventide when the sunset was a welter of purple and gold, there was a sudden smashing of glassware in the smoking room and a flurry of arms and legs in a far corner, and a couple of pained stewards scurrying about saying, "Ow, now, don't do that, sir, if you please, sir, thank you, sir!" And one of the belligerents came forth from the melee wearing a lavender eye with saffron trimmings, as though to match the sunset, and the other with a set of skinned knuckles, emblematic of the skinning operations previously undertaken. And through all the ship ran the hissing tongues of scandal and gossip.
Out of wild rumor and cross-rumor, certain salient facts were eventually precipitated like sediment from a clouded solution. It seemed that the engaging Messrs. X, Y and Z had been induced, practically under false pretenses to book passage, they having read in the public prints that the prodigal and card-foolish son of a cheese-paring millionaire father meant to take the ship too; but he had grievously disappointed them by not coming aboard at all. Then, when in an effort to make their traveling expenses back, they uncorked their newest trick and device for inspiring confidence in gudgeons, the particular gudgeon of their choosing had refused to pay up. Naturally they were fretful and peevish in the extreme. It spoiled the whole trip for them.
Except for this one small affair it was, on the whole, a pleasant voyage. We had only one storm and one ship's concert, and at the finish most of us were strong enough to have stood another storm. And the trip had been worth a lot to us—at least it had been worth a lot to me, for I had crossed the ocean on one of the biggest hotels afloat. I had amassed quite a lot of nautical terms that would come in very handy for stunning the folks at home when I got back. I had had my first thrill at the sight of foreign shores. And just by casual contact with members of the British aristocracy, I had acquired such a heavy load of true British hauteur that in parting on the landing dock I merely bowed distantly toward those of my fellow Americans to whom I had not been introduced; and they, having contracted the same disease, bowed back in the same haughty and distant manner.
When some of us met again, however, in Vienna, the insulation had been entirely rubbed off and we rushed madly into one another's arms and exchanged names and addresses; and, babbling feverishly the while, we told one another what our favorite flower was, and our birthstone and our grandmother's maiden name, and what we thought of a race of people who regarded a cup of ostensible coffee and a dab of honey as constituting a man's-size breakfast. And, being pretty tolerably homesick by that time, we leaned in toward a common center and gave three loud, vehement cheers for the land of the country sausage and the home of the buckwheat cake—and, as giants refreshed, went on our ways rejoicing.
That, though, was to come later. At present we are concerned with the trip over and what we had severally learned from it. I personally had learned, among other things, that the Atlantic Ocean, considered as such, is a considerably overrated body. Having been across it, even on so big and fine and well-ordered a ship as this ship was, the ocean, it seemed to me, was not at all what it had been cracked up to be.
During the first day out it is a novelty and after that a monotony—except when it is rough; and then it is a doggoned nuisance. Poets without end have written of the sea, but I take it they stayed at home to do their writing. They were not on the bounding billow when they praised it; if they had been they might have decorated the billow, but they would never have praised it.
As the old song so happily put it: My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean! And a lot of others have lied over it too; but I will not—at least not just yet. Perhaps later on I may feel moved to do so; but at this moment I am but newly landed from it and my heart is full of rankling resentment toward the ocean and all its works.
I speak but a sober conviction when I say that the chief advantage to be derived from taking an ocean voyage is not that you took it, but that you have it to talk about afterward. And, to my mind, the most inspiring sight to bewitnessed on a trip across the Atlantic is the Battery—viewed from the ocean side, coming back.
Do I hear any seconds to that motion?
My first experience with the bathing habits of the native Aryan stocks of Europe came to pass on the morning after the night of our arrival in London.
London disappointed me in one regard—when I opened my eyes that morning there was no fog. There was not the slightest sign of a fog. I had expected that my room would be full of fog of about the consistency of Scotch stage dialect—soupy, you know, and thick and bewildering. I had expected that servants with lighted tapers in their hands would be groping their way through corridors like caves, and that from the street without, would come the hoarse-voiced cries of cabmen lost in the enshrouding gray. You remember Dickens always had them hoarse-voiced.
This was what I confidently expected. Such, however, was not to be. I woke to a consciousness that the place was flooded with indubitable and undoubted sunshine. To be sure, it was not the sharp, hard sunshine we have in America, which scours and bleaches all it touches, until the whole world has the look of having just been clear-starched and hot-ironed. It was a softened, smoke-edged, pastel-shaded sunshine; nevertheless it was plainly recognizable as the genuine article.
Nor was your London shadow the sharply outlined companion in black who accompanies you when the weather is fine in America. Your shadow in London was rather a dim and wavery gentleman who caught up with you as you turned out of the shaded by-street; who went with you a distance and then shyly vanished, but was good company while he stayed, being restful, as your well-bred Englishman nearly always is, and not overly aggressive.
There was no fog that first morning, or the next morning, or any morning of the twenty-odd we spent in England. Often the weather was cloudy, and occasionally it was rainy; and then London would be drenched in that wonderful gray color which makes it, scenically speaking, one of the most fascinating spots on earth; but it was never downright foggy and never downright cold. English friends used to speak to me about it. They apologized for good weather at that season of the year, just as natives of a Florida winter resort will apologize for bad.
"You know, old dear," they would say, "this is most unusual—most stroidinary, in fact. It ought to be raw and nasty and foggy at this time of the year, and here the cursed weather is perfectly fine—blast it!" You could tell they were grieved about it, and disappointed too. Anything that is not regular upsets Englishmen frightfully. Maybe that is why they enforce their laws so rigidly and obey them so beautifully.
Anyway I woke to find the fog absent, and I rose and prepared to take my customary cold bath. I am much given to taking a cold bath in the morning and speaking of it afterward. People who take a cold bath every day always like to brag about it, whether they take it or not.
The bathroom adjoined the bedroom, but did not directly connect with it, being reached by means of a small semi-private hallway. It was a fine, noble bathroom, white tiled and spotless; and one side of it was occupied by the longest, narrowest bathtub I ever saw. Apparently English bathtubs are constructed on the principle that every Englishman who bathes is nine feet long and about eighteen inches wide, whereas the approximate contrary is frequently the case. Draped over a chair was the biggest, widest, softest bathtowel ever made. Shem, Ham and Japhet could have dried themselves on that bathtowel, and there would still have been enough dry territory left for some of the animals—not the large, woolly animals like the Siberian yak, but the small, slick, porous animals such as the armadillo and the Mexican hairless dog.
So I wedged myself into the tub and had a snug-fitting but most luxurious bath; and when I got back to my room the maid had arrived with the shaving water. There was a knock at the door, and when I opened it there stood a maid with a lukewarm pint of water in a long-waisted, thin-lipped pewter pitcher. There was plenty of hot water to be had in the bathroom, with faucets and sinks all handy and convenient, and a person might shave himself there in absolute comfort; but long before the days of pipes and taps an Englishman got his shaving water in a pewter ewer, and he still gets it so. It is one of the things guaranteed him under Magna Charta and he demands it as a right; but I, being but a benighted foreigner, left mine in the pitcher, and that evening the maid checked me up.
"You didn't use the shaving water I brought you to-day, sir!" she said. "It was still in the jug when I came in to tidy up, sir."
Her tone was grieved; so, after that, to spare her feelings, I used to pour it down the sink. But if I were doing the trip over again I would drink it for breakfast instead of the coffee the waiter brought me—the shaving water being warmish and containing, so far as I could tell, no deleterious substances. And if the bathroom were occupied at the time I would shave myself with the coffee. I judge it might work up into a thick and durable lather. It is certainly not adapted for drinking purposes.
The English, as a race, excel at making tea and at drinking it after it is made; but among them coffee is still a mysterious and murky compound full of strange by-products. By first weakening it and wearing it down with warm milk one may imbibe it; but it is not to be reckoned among the pleasures of life. It is a solemn and a painful duty.
On the second morning I was splashing in my tub, gratifying that amphibious instinct which has come down to us from the dim evolutionary time when we were paleozoic polliwogs, when I made the discovery that there were no towels in the bathroom. I glanced about keenly, seeking for help and guidance in such an emergency. Set in the wall directly above the rim of the tub was a brass plate containing two pushbuttons. One button, the uppermost one, was labeled Waiter—the other was labeled Maid.
This was disconcerting. Even in so short a stay under the roof of an English hotel I had learned that at this hour the waiter would be hastening from room to room, ministering to Englishmen engaged in gumming their vital organs into an impenetrable mass with the national dish of marmalade; and that the maid would also be busy carrying shaving water to people who did not need it. Besides, of all the classes I distinctly do not require when I am bathing, one is waiters and the other is maids. For some minutes I considered the situation, without making any headway toward a suitable solution of it; meantime I was getting chilled. So I dried myself—sketchily—with a toothbrush and the edge of the window-shade; then I dressed, and in a still somewhat moist state I went down to interview the management about it. I first visited the information desk and told the youth in charge there I wished to converse with some one in authority on the subject of towels. After gazing at me a spell in a puzzled manner he directed me to go across the lobby to the cashier's department. Here I found a gentleman of truly regal aspect. His tie was a perfect dream of a tie, and he wore a frock coat so slim and long and black it made him look as though he were climbing out of a smokestack. Presenting the case as though it were a supposititious one purely, I said to him:
"Presuming now that one of your guests is in a bathtub and finds he has forgotten to lay in any towels beforehand—such a thing might possibly occur, you know—how does he go about summoning the man-servant or the valet with a view to getting some?"
"Oh, sir," he replied, "that's very simple. You noticed two pushbuttons in your bathroom, didn't you?"
"I did," I said, "and that's just the difficulty. One of them is for the maid and the other is for the waiter."
"Quite so, sir," he said, "quite so. Very well, then, sir: You ring for the waiter or the maid—or, if you should charnce to be in a hurry, for both of them; because, you see, one of them might charnce to be en—"
"One moment," I said. "Let me make my position clear in this matter: This Lady Susanna—I do not know her last name, but you will doubtless recall the person I mean, because I saw several pictures of her yesterday in your national art gallery—this Lady Susanna may have enjoyed taking a bath with a lot of snoopy old elders lurking round in the background; but I am not so constituted. I was raised differently from that. With me, bathing has ever been a solitary pleasure. This may denote selfishness on my part; but such is my nature and I cannot alter it. All my folks feel about it as I do. We are a very peculiar family that way. When bathing we do not invite an audience. Nor do I want one. A crowd would only embarrass me. I merely desire a little privacy and, here and there, a towel."
"Ah, yes! Quite so, sir," he said; "but you do not understand me. As I said before, you ring for the waiter or the maid. When one of them comes you tell them to send you the manservant on your floor; and when he comes you tell him you require towels, and he goes to the linen cupboard and gets them and fetches them to you, sir. It's very simple, sir."
"But why," I persisted, "why do this thing by a relay system? I don't want any famishing gentleman in this place to go practically unmarmaladed at breakfast because I am using the waiter to conduct preliminary negotiations with a third party in regard to a bathtowel."
"But it is so very simple, sir," he repeated patiently. "You ring for the waiter or the ma—"
I checked him with a gesture. I felt that I knew what he meant to say; I also felt that if any word of mine might serve to put this establishment on an easy-running basis they could have it and welcome.
"Listen!" I said. "You will kindly pardon the ignorance of a poor, red, partly damp American who has shed his eagle feathers but still has his native curiosity with him! Why not put a third button in that bathroom labeled Manservant or Valet or Towel Boy, or something of that general nature? And then when a sufferer wanted towels, and wanted 'em quick, he could get them without blocking the wheels of progress and industry. We may still be shooting Mohawk Indians and the American bison in the streets of Buffalo, New York; and we may still be saying: 'By Geehosaphat, I swan to calculate! —aanyway, I note that we still say that in all your leading comic papers; but when a man in my land goes a-toweling, he goes a-toweling —and that is all there is to it, positively! In our secret lodges it may happen that the worshipful master calls the august swordbearer to him and bids him communicate with the grand outer guardian and see whether the candidate is suitably attired for admission; but in ordinary life we cut out the middleman wherever possible. Do you get my drift?"
"Oh, yes, sir," he said; "but I fear you do not understand me. As I told you, it's very simple—so very simple, sir. We've never found it necessary to make a change. You ring for the waiter or for the maid, and you tell them to tell the manservant—"
"All right," I said, breaking in. I could see that his arguments were of the circular variety that always came back to the starting point. "But, as a favor to me, would you kindly ask the proprietor to request the head cook to communicate with the carriage starter and have him inform the waiter that when in future I ring the bathroom bell in a given manner—to wit: one long, determined ring followed by three short, passionate rings—it may be regarded as a signal for towels?"
So saying, I turned on my heel and went away, for I could tell he was getting ready to begin all over again. Later on I found out for myself that, in this particular hotel, when you ring for the waiter or the maid the bell sounds in the service room, where those functionaries are supposed to be stationed; but when you ring for the manservant a small arm-shaped device like a semaphore drops down over your outer door. But what has the manservant done that he should be thus discriminated against? Why should he not have a bell of his own? So far as I might judge, the poor fellow has few enough pleasures in life as it is. Why should he battle with the intricacies of a block-signal system when everybody else round the place has a separate bell? And why all this mystery and mummery over so simple and elemental a thing as a towel?
To my mind, it merely helps to prove that among the English the art of bathing is still in its infancy. The English claim to have discovered the human bath and they resent mildly the assumption that any other nation should become addicted to it; whereas I argue that the burden of the proof shows we do more bathing to the square inch of surface than the English ever did. At least, we have superior accommodations for it.
The day is gone in this country when Saturday night was the big night for indoor aquatic sports and pastimes; and no gentleman as was a gentleman would call on his ladylove and break up her plans for the great weekly ceremony. There may have been a time in certain rural districts when the bathing season for males practically ended on September fifteenth, owing to the water in the horsepond becoming chilled; but that time has passed. Along with every modern house that is built to-day, in country or town, we expect bathrooms and plenty of them. With us the presence of a few bathtubs more or less creates no great amount of excitement—nor does the mere sight of open plumbing particularly stir our people; whereas in England a hotelkeeper who has bathrooms on the premises advertises the fact on his stationery.
If in addition to a few bathrooms a Continental hotelkeeper has a decrepit elevator he makes more noise over it than we do over a Pompeian palmroom or an Etruscan roofgarden; he hangs a sign above his front door testifying to his magnificent enterprise in this regard. The Continental may be a born hotelkeeper, as has been frequently claimed for him; but the trouble is he usually has no hotel to keep. It is as though you set an interior decorator to run a livery stable and expected him to make it attractive. He may have the talents, but he is lacking in the raw material.
It was in a London apartment house, out Maida Vale way, that I first beheld the official bathtub of an English family establishment. It was one of those bathtubs that flourished in our own land at about the time of the Green-back craze—a coffin-shaped, boxed-in affair lined with zinc; and the zinc was suffering from tetter or other serious skin trouble and was peeling badly. There was a current superstition about the place to the effect that the bathroom and the water supply might on occasion be heated with a device known in the vernacular as a geezer.
The geezer was a sheet-iron contraption in the shape of a pocket inkstand, and it stood on a perch in the corner, like a Russian icon, with a small blue flame flickering beneath it. It looked as though its sire might have been a snare-drum and its dam a dark lantern, and that it got its looks from its father and its heating powers from the mother's side of the family. And the plumbing fixtures were of the type that passed out of general use on the American side of the water with the Rutherford B. Hayes administration. I was given to understand that this was a fair sample of the average residential London bathroom—though the newer apartment houses that are going up have better ones, they told me.
In English country houses the dearth of bathing appliances must be even more dearthful. I ran through the columns of the leading English fashion journal and read the descriptions of the large country places that were there offered for sale or lease. In many instances the advertisements were accompanied by photographic reproductions in half tone showing magnificent old places, with Queen Anne fronts and Tudor towers and Elizabethan entails and Georgian mortgages, and what not.
Seeing these views I could conjure up visions of rooks cawing in the elms; of young curates in flat hats imbibing tea on green lawns; of housekeepers named Meadows or Fleming, in rustling black silk; of old Giles—fifty years, man and boy, on the place—wearing a smock frock and leaning on a pitchfork, with a wisp of hay caught in the tines, lamenting that the 'All 'asn't been the same, zur, since the young marster was killed ridin' to 'ounds; and then pensively wiping his eyes on a stray strand of the hay.
With no great stretch of the imagination I could picture a gouty, morose old lord with a secret sorrow and a brandy breath; I could picture a profligate heir going deeper and deeper in debt, but refusing to the bitter end to put the ax to the roots of the ancestral oaks. I could imagine these parties readily, because I had frequently read about both of them in the standard English novels; and I had seen them depicted in all the orthodox English dramas I ever patronized. But I did not notice in the appended descriptions any extended notice of heating arrangements; most of the advertisements seemed to slur over that point altogether.
And, as regards bathing facilities in their relation to the capacities of these country places, I quote at random from the figures given: Eighteen rooms and one bath; sixteen rooms and two baths; fourteen rooms and one bath; twenty-one rooms and two baths; eleven rooms and one bath; thirty-four rooms and two baths. Remember that by rooms bedrooms were meant; the reception rooms and parlors and dining halls and offices, and the like, were listed separately.
I asked a well-informed Englishman how he could reconcile this discrepancy between bedrooms and bathrooms with the current belief that the English had a practical monopoly of the habit of bathing. After considering the proposition at some length he said I should understand there was a difference in England between taking a bath and taking a tub—that, though an Englishman might not be particularly addicted to a bath, he must have his tub every morning. But I submit that the facts prove this explanation to have been but a feeble subterfuge.
Let us, for an especially conspicuous example, take the house that has thirty-four sleeping chambers and only two baths. Let us imagine the house to be full of guests, with every bedroom occupied; and, if it is possible to do so without blushing, let us further imagine a couple of pink-and-white English gentlemen in the two baths. If preferable, members of the opposite sex may imagine two ladies. Very well, then; this leaves the occupants of thirty-two bedrooms all to be provided with large tin tubs at approximately the same hour of the morning. Where would any household muster the crews to man all those portable tin tubs? And where would the proprietor keep his battery of thirty-two tubs when they were not in use? Not in the family picture gallery, surely!
From my readings of works of fiction describing the daily life of the English upper classes I know full well that the picture gallery is lined with family portraits; that each canvased countenance there shows the haughtily aquiline but slightly catarrhal nose, which is a heritage of this house; that each pair of dark and brooding eyes hide in their depths the shadow of that dread Nemesis which, through all the fateful centuries, has dogged this brave but ill-starred race until now, alas! the place must be let, furnished, to some beastly creature in trade, such as an American millionaire.
Here at this end we have the founder of the line, dubbed a knight on the gory field of Hastings; and there at that end we have the present heir, a knighted dub. We know they cannot put the tubs in the family picture gallery; there is no room. They need an armory for that outfit, and no armory is specified in the advertisement.
So I, for one, must decline to be misled or deceived by specious generalities. If you are asking me my opinion I shall simply say that the bathing habit of Merrie England is a venerable myth, and likewise so is the fresh-air fetish. The error an Englishman makes is that he mistakes cold air for fresh air.
In cold weather an Englishman arranges a few splintered jackstraws, kindling fashion, in an open grate somewhat resembling in size and shape a wallpocket for bedroom slippers. On this substructure he gently deposits one or more carboniferous nodules the size of a pigeon egg, and touches a match to the whole. In the more fortunate instances the result is a small, reddish ember smoking intermittently. He stands by and feeds the glow with a dessert-spoonful of fuel administered at half-hour intervals, and imagines he really has a fire and that he is really being warmed.
Why the English insist on speaking of coal in the plural when they use it only in the singular is more than I can understand. Conceded that we overheat our houses and our railroad trains and our hotel lobbies in America, nevertheless we do heat them. In winter their interiors are warmer and less damp than the outer air—which is more than can be said for the lands across the sea, where you have to go outdoors to thaw.
If there are any outdoor sleeping porches in England I missed them when I was there; but as regards the ventilation of an English hotel I may speak with authority, having patronized one. To begin with, the windows have heavy shades. Back of these in turn are folding blinds; then long, close curtains of muslin; then, finally, thick, manifolding, shrouding draperies of some airproof woolen stuff. At nighttime the maid enters your room, seals the windows, pulls down the shades, locks the shutters, closes the curtains, draws the draperies—and then, I think, calks all the cracks with oakum. When the occupant of that chamber retires to rest he is as hermetic as old Rameses the First, safe in his tomb, ever dared to hope to be. That reddish aspect of the face noted in connection with the average Englishman is not due to fresh air, as has been popularly supposed; it is due to the lack of it. It is caused by congestion. For years he has been going along, trying to breathe without having the necessary ingredients at hand.
At that, England excels the rest of Europe in fresh air, just as it excels it in the matter of bathing facilities. There is some fresh air left in England—an abundant supply in warm weather, and a stray bit here and there in cold. On the Continent there is none to speak of.
In Germany the last fresh air was used during the Thirty Years' War, and there has since been no demand for any. Austria has no fresh air at all—never did have any, and therefore has never felt the need of having any. Italy—the northern part of it anyhow—is also reasonably shy of this commodity.
In the German-speaking countries all street cars and all railway trains sail with battened hatches. In their palmiest days the Jimmy Hope gang could not have opened a window in a German sleeping car—not without blasting; and trying to open a window in the ordinary first or second class carriage provides healthful exercise for an American tourist, while affording a cheap and simple form of amusement for his fellow passengers. If, by superhuman efforts and at the cost of a fingernail or two, he should get one open, somebody else in the compartment as a matter of principle, immediately objects; and the retired brigadier-general, who is always in charge of a German train, comes and seals it up again, for that is the rule and the law; and then the natives are satisfied and sit in sweet content together, breathing a line of second-handed air that would choke a salamander.
Once, a good many years ago—in the century before the last I think it was—a member of the Teutonic racial stock was accidentally caught out in the fresh air and some of it got into his lungs. And, being a strange and a foreign influence to which the lungs were unused, it sickened him; in fact I am not sure but that it killed him on the spot. So the emperors of Germany and Austria got together and issued a joint ukase on the subject and, so far as the traveling public was concerned, forever abolished those dangerous experiments. Over there they think a draft is deadly, and I presume it is if you have never tampered with one. They have a saying: A little window is a dangerous thing.
As with fresh air on the Continent, so also with baths—except perhaps more so. In deference to the strange and unaccountable desires of their English-speaking guests the larger hotels in Paris are abundantly equipped with bathrooms now, but the Parisian boulevardiers continue to look with darkling suspicion on a party who will deliberately immerse his person in cold water; their beings seem to recoil in horror from the bare prospect of such a thing. It is plainly to be seen they think his intelligence has been attainted by cold water externally applied; they fear that through a complete undermining of his reason he may next be committing these acts of violence on innocent bystanders rather than on himself, as in the present distressing stages of his mania. Especially, I would say, is this the attitude of the habitue of Montmartre.
I can offer no visual proof to back my word; but by other testimony I venture the assertion that when a boulevardier feels the need of a bath he hangs a musk bag round his neck—and then, as the saying is, the warmer the sweeter. His companion of the gentler sex apparently has the same idea of performing daily ablutions that a tabby cat has. You recall the tabby-cat system, do you not?—two swipes over the brow with the moistened paw, one forward swipe over each ear, a kind of circular rubbing effect across the face—and call it a day! Drowning must be the most frightful death that a Parisian sidewalk favorite can die. It is not so much the death itself—it is the attendant circumstances.
Across the river, in the older quarters of Paris, there is excitement when anybody on the block takes a bath—not so much excitement as for a fire, perhaps, but more than for a funeral. On the eve of the fatal day the news spreads through the district that to-morrow poor Jacques is going to take a bath! A further reprieve has been denied him. He cannot put it off for another month, or even for another two weeks. His doom is nigh at hand; there is no hope—none!
Kindly old Angeline, the midwife, shakes her head sadly as she goes about her simple duties.
On the morrow the condemned man rises early and sees his spiritual adviser. He eats a hearty breakfast, takes an affectionate leave of his family and says he is prepared for the worst. At the appointed hour the tumbrel enters the street, driven by the paid executioner—a descendant of the original Sanson—and bearing the dread instrument of punishment, a large oblong tin tub.
The rumble of the heavy wheels over the cobbles seems to wake an agonized chord in every bosom. To-day this dread visitation descends on Jacques; but who can tell—so the neighbors say to themselves—when the same fate may strike some other household now happily unconscious! All along the narrow way sorrow-drooped heads protrude in rows; from every casement dangle whiskers, lank and stringy with sympathy—for in this section every true Frenchman has whiskers, and if by chance he has not his wife has; so that there are whiskers for all.
From the window of the doomed wretch's apartments a derrick protrudes—a crossarm with a pulley and a rope attached. It bears a grimly significant resemblance to a gallows tree. Under the direction of the presiding functionary the tub is made fast to the tackle and hoisted upward as pianos and safes are hoisted in American cities. It halts at the open casement. It vanishes within. The whole place resounds with low murmurs of horror and commiseration.
Ah, the poor Jacques—how he must suffer! Hark to that low, sickening thud! 'Tis the accursed soap dropping from his nerveless grasp. Hist to that sound—like unto a death rattle! It is the water gurgling in the tub. And what means that low, poignant, smothered gasp? It is the last convulsive cry of Jacques descending into the depths. All is over! Let us pray!
The tub, emptied but stained, is lowered to the waiting cart. The executioner kisses the citizen who has held his horse for him during his absence and departs; the whole district still hums with ill-suppressed excitement. Questions fly from tongue to tongue. Was the victim brave at the last? Was he resigned when the dread moment came? And how is the family bearing up? It is hours before the place settles down again to that calm which will endure for another month, until somebody else takes a bath on a physician's prescription.
Even in the sanctity of a Paris hotel a bath is more or less a public function unless you lock your door. All sorts of domestic servitors drift in, filled with a morbid curiosity to see how a foreigner deports himself when engaged in this strange, barbaric rite. On the occasion of my first bath on French soil, after several of the hired help had thus called on me informally, causing me to cower low in my porcelain retreat, I took advantage of a moment of comparative quiet to rise drippingly and draw the latch. I judged the proprietor would be along next, and I was not dressed for him. The Lady Susanna of whom mention has previously been made must have stopped at a French hotel at some time of her life. This helps us to understand why she remained so calm when the elders happened in.
Even as now practiced, bathing still remains a comparative novelty in the best French circles, I imagine. I base this presumption on observations made during a visit to Versailles. I went to Versailles; I trod with reverent step those historic precincts adorned with art treasures uncountable, with curios magnificent, with relics invaluable. I visited the little palace and the big; I ventured deep into that splendid forest where, in the company of ladies regarding whom there has been a good deal of talk subsequently, France's Grandest and Merriest Monarch disported himself. And I found out what made the Merriest Monarch merry—so far as I could see, there was not a bathroom on the place. He was a true Frenchman—was Louis the Fourteenth.
In Berlin, at the Imperial Palace, our experience was somewhat similar. Led by a guide we walked through acres of state drawing rooms and state dining rooms and state reception rooms and state picture rooms; and we were told that most of them—or, at least, many of them—were the handiwork of the late Andreas Schluter. The deceased Schluter was an architect, a painter, a sculptor, a woodcarver, a decorator, all rolled into one. He was the George M. Cohan of his time; and I think he also played the clarinet, being a German.
We traversed miles of these Schluter masterpieces. Eventually we heard sounds of martial music without, and we went to a window overlooking a paved courtyard; and from that point we presently beheld a fine sight. For the moment the courtyard was empty, except that in the center stood a great mass of bronze—by Schluter, I think—a heroic equestrian statue of Saint George in the act of destroying the first adulterated German sausage. But in a minute the garrison turned out; and then in through an arched gateway filed the relief guard headed by a splendid band, with bell-hung standards jingling at the head of the column and young officers stalking along as stiff as ramrods, and soldiers marching with the goosestep.
In the German army the private who raises his knee the highest and sticks his shank out ahead of him the straightest, and slams his foot down the hardest and jars his brain the painfulest, is promoted to be a corporal and given a much heavier pair of shoes, so that he may make more noise and in time utterly destroy his reason. The goosestep would be a great thing for destroying grasshoppers or cutworms in a plague year in a Kansas wheatfield.
At the Kaiser's palace we witnessed all these sights, but we did not run across any bathrooms or any bathtubs. However, we were in the public end of the establishment and I regard it as probable that in the other wing, where the Kaiser lives when at home, there are plenty of bathrooms. I did not investigate personally. The Kaiser was out at Potsdam and I did not care to call in his absence.
Bathrooms are plentiful at the hotel where we stopped at Berlin. I had rather hoped to find the bedroom equipped with an old-fashioned German feather bed. I had heard that one scaled the side of a German bed on a stepladder and then fell headlong into its smothering folds like a gallant fireman invading a burning rag warehouse; but this hotel happened to be the best hotel that I ever saw outside the United States. It had been built and it was managed on American lines, plus German domestic service—which made an incomparable combination—and it was furnished with modern beds and provided with modern bathrooms.
Probably as a delicate compliment to the Kaiser, the bathtowels were starched until the fringes at the ends bristled up stiffly a-curl, like the ends of His Imperial Majesty's equally imperial mustache. Just once—and once only—I made the mistake of rubbing myself with one of those towels just as it was. I should have softened it first by a hackling process, as we used to hackle the hemp in Kentucky; but I did not. For two days I felt like an etching. I looked something like one too.
In Vienna we could not get a bedroom with a bathroom attached —they did not seem to have any—but we were told there was a bathroom just across the hall which we might use with the utmost freedom. This bathroom was a large, long, loftly, marble-walled vault. It was as cold as a tomb and as gloomy as one, and very smelly. Indeed it greatly resembled the pictures I have seen of the sepulcher of an Egyptian king—only I would have said that this particular king had been skimpily embalmed by the royal undertakers in the first place, and then imperfectly packed. The bathtub was long and marked with scars, and it looked exactly like a rifled mummy case with the lid missing, which added greatly to the prevalent illusion.
We used this bathroom ad lib.: but when I went to pay the bill I found an official had been keeping tabs on us, and that all baths taken had been charged up at the rate of sixty cents apiece. I had provided my own soap too! For that matter the traveler provides his own soap everywhere in Europe, outside of England. In some parts soap is regarded as an edible and in some as a vice common to foreigners; but everywhere except in the northern countries it is a curio.
So in Vienna they made us furnish our own soap and then charged us more for a bath than they did for a meal. Still, by their standards, I dare say they were right. A meal is a necessity, but a bath is an exotic luxury; and, since they have no extensive tariff laws in Austria, it is but fair that the foreigner should pay the tax. I know I paid mine, one way or another.
Speaking of bathing reminds me of washing; and speaking of washing reminds me of an adventure I had in Vienna in connection with a white waistcoat—or, as we would call it down where I was raised, a dress vest. This vest had become soiled through travel and wear across Europe. At Vienna I intrusted it to the laundry along with certain other garments. When the bundle came back my vest was among the missing.
The maid did not seem to be able to comprehend the brand of German I use in casual conversation; so, through an interpreter, I explained to her that I was shy one white vest. For two days she brought all sorts of vests and submitted them to me on approval—thin ones and thick ones; old ones and new ones; slick ones and woolly ones; fringed ones and frayed ones. I think the woman had a private vest mine somewhere, and went and tapped a fresh vein on my account every few minutes; but it never was the right vest she brought me.
Finally I told her in my best German, meantime accompanying myself with appropriate yet graceful gestures, that she need not concern herself further with the affair; she could just let the matter drop and I would interview the manager and put in a claim for the value of the lost garment. She looked at me dazedly a moment while I repeated the injunction more painstakingly than before; and, at that, understanding seemed to break down the barriers of her reason and she said, "Ja! Ja!" Then she nodded emphatically several times, smiled and hurried away and in twenty minutes was back, bringing with her a begging friar of some monastic order or other.
I would take it as a personal favor if some student of the various Teutonic tongues and jargons would inform me whether there is any word in Viennese for white vest that sounds like Catholic priest! However, we prayed together—that brown brother and I. I do not know what he prayed for, but I prayed for my vest.
I never got it though. I doubt whether my prayer ever reached heaven—it had such a long way to go. It is farther from Vienna to heaven than from any other place in the world, I guess—unless it is Paris. That vest is still wandering about the damp-filled corridors of that hotel, mooing in a plaintive manner for its mate —which is myself. It will never find a suitable adopted parent. It was especially coopered to my form by an expert clothing contractor, and it will not fit anyone else. No; it will wander on and on, the starchy bulge of its bosom dimly phosphorescent in the gloaming, its white pearl buttons glimmering spectrally; and after a while the hotel will get the reputation of being haunted by the ghost of a flour barrel, and will have a bad name and lose custom. I hope so anyway. It looks to be my one chance of getting even with the owner for penalizing me in the matter of baths.
From Vienna we went southward into the Tyrolese Alps. It was a wonderful ride—that ride through the Semmering and on down to Northern Italy. Our absurdly short little locomotive, drawing our absurdly long train, went boring in and out of a wrinkly shoulder-seam of the Tyrols like a stubby needle going through a tuck. I think in thirty miles we threaded thirty tunnels; after that I was practically asphyxiated and lost count.
If I ever take that journey again I shall wear a smoke helmet and be comfortable. But always between tunnels there were views to be seen that would have revived one of the Seven Sleepers. Now, on the great-granddaddy-longlegs of all the spidery trestles that ever were built, we would go roaring across a mighty gorge, its sides clothed with perpendicular gardens and vineyards, and with little gray towns clustering under the ledges on its sheer walls like mud-daubers' nests beneath an eave. Now, perched on a ridgy outcrop of rock like a single tooth in a snaggled reptilian jaw, would be a deserted tower, making a fellow think of the good old feudal days when the robber barons robbed the traveler instead of as at present, when the job is so completely attended to by the pirates who weigh and register baggage in these parts.
Then—whish, roar, eclipse, darkness and sulphureted hydrogen!—we would dive into another tunnel and out again—gasping—on a breathtaking panorama of mountains. Some of them would be standing up against the sky like the jagged top of a half-finished cutout puzzle, and some would be buried so deeply in clouds that only their peaked blue noses showed sharp above the featherbed mattresses of mist in which they were snuggled, as befitted mountains of Teutonic extraction. And nearly every eminence was crowned with a ruined castle or a hotel. It was easy to tell a hotel from a ruin—it had a sign over the door.
At one of those hotels I met up with a homesick American. He was marooned there in the rain, waiting for the skies to clear, so he could do some mountain climbing; and he was beginning to get moldy from the prevalent damp. By now the study of bathing habits had become an obsession with me; I asked him whether he had encountered any bathtubs about the place. He said a bathtub in those altitudes was as rare as a chamois, and the chamois was entirely extinct; so I might make my own calculations. But he said he could show me something that was even a greater curiosity than a bathtub, and he led me to where a moonfaced barometer hung alongside the front entrance of the hotel.
He said he had been there a week now and had about lost hope; but every time he threatened to move on, the proprietor would take him out there and prove that they were bound to have clearing weather within a few hours, because the barometer registered fair. At that moment streams of chilly rain-water were coursing down across the dial of the barometer, but it registered fair even then. He said—the American did—that it was the most stationary barometer he had ever seen, and the most reliable—not vacillating and given to moods, like most barometers, but fixed and unchangeable in its habits.
I matched it, though, with a thermometer I saw in the early spring of 1913 at a coast resort in southern California. An Eastern tourist would venture out on the windswept and drippy veranda, of a morning after breakfast. He would think he was cold. He would have many of the outward indications of being cold. His teeth would be chattering like a Morse sounder, and inside his white-duck pants his knees would be knocking together with a low, muffled sound. He would be so prickled with gooseflesh that he felt like Saint Sebastian; but he would take a look at the thermometer —sixty-one in the shade! And such was the power of mercury and mind combined over matter that he would immediately chirk up and feel warm.
Not a hundred yards away, at a drug store, was one of those fickle-minded, variable thermometers, showing a temperature that ranged from fifty-five on downward to forty; but the hotel thermometer stood firm at sixty-one, no matter what happened. In a season of trying climatic conditions it was a great comfort—a boon really —not only to its owner but to his guests. Speaking personally, however, I have no need to consult the barometer's face to see what the weather is going to do, or the thermometer's tube to see what it has done. No person needs to do so who is favored naturally as I am. I have one of the most dependable soft corns in the business.
Rome is full of baths—vast ruined ones erected by various emperors and still bearing their names—such as Caracalla's Baths and Titus' Baths, and so on. Evidently the ancient Romans were very fond of taking baths.
Other striking dissimilarities between the ancient Romans and the modern Romans are perceptible at a glance.
Being desirous of tendering sundry hints and observations to such of my fellow countrymen as may contemplate trips abroad I shall, with their kindly permission, devote this chapter to setting forth briefly the following principles, which apply generally to railroad travel in the Old World.
First—On the Continent all trains leave at or about seven A.M. and reach their destination at or about eleven P.M. You may be going a long distance or a short one—it makes no difference; you leave at seven and you arrive at eleven. The few exceptions to this rule are of no consequence and do not count.
Second—A trunk is the most costly luxury known to European travel. If I could sell my small, shrinking and flat-chested steamer trunk —original value in New York eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents—for what it cost me over on the other side in registration fees, excess charges, mental wear and tear, freightage, forwarding and warehousing bills, tips, bribes, indulgences, and acts of barratry and piracy, I should be able to laugh in the income tax's face. In this connection I would suggest to the tourist who is traveling with a trunk that he begin his land itinerary in Southern Italy and work northward; thereby, through the gradual shrinkage in weight, he will save much money on his trunk, owing to the pleasing custom among the Italian trainhands of prying it open and making a judicious selection from its contents for personal use and for gifts to friends and relatives.
Third—For the sake of the experience, travel second class once; after that travel first class—and try to forget the experience. With the exception of two or three special-fare, so-called de-luxe trains, first class over there is about what the service was on an accommodation, mixed-freight-and-passenger train in Arkansas immediately following the close of the Civil War.
Fourth—When buying a ticket for anywhere you will receive a cunning little booklet full of detachable leaves, the whole constituting a volume about the size and thickness of one of those portfolios of views that came into popularity with us at the time of the Philadelphia Centennial. Surrender a sheet out of your book on demand of the uniformed official who will come through the train at from five to seven minute intervals. However, he will collect only a sheet every other trip; on the alternate trips he will merely examine your ticket with the air of never having seen it before, and will fold it over, and perforate it with his punching machine and return it to you. By the time you reach your destination nothing will be left but the cover; but do not cast this carelessly aside; retain it until you are filing out of the terminal, when it will be taken up by a haughty voluptuary with whiskers. If you have not got it you cannot escape. You will have to go back and live on the train, which is, indeed, a frightful fate to contemplate.
Fifth—Reach the station half an hour before the train starts and claim your seat; then tip the guard liberally to keep other passengers out of your compartment. He has no intention of doing so, but it is customary for Americans to go through this pleasing formality—and it is expected of them.
Sixth—Tip everybody on the train who wears a uniform. Be not afraid of hurting some one's feelings by offering a tip to the wrong person. There will not be any wrong person. A tip is the one form of insult that anybody in Europe will take.
Seventh—Before entering the train inhale deeply several times. This will be your last chance of getting any fresh air until you reach your destination. For self-defense against the germ life prevailing in the atmosphere of the unventilated compartments, smoke a German cigar. A German cigar keeps off any disease except the cholera; it gives you the cholera.
Eighth—Do not linger on the platform, waiting for the locomotive whistle to blow, or the bell to ring, or somebody to yell "All aboard!" If you do this you will probably keep on lingering until the following morning at seven. As a starting signal the presiding functionary renders a brief solo on a tiny tin trumpet. One puny warning blast from this instrument sets the whole train in motion. It makes you think of Gabriel bringing on the Day of Judgment by tootling on a penny whistle. Another interesting point: The engine does not say Choo-choo as in our country—it says Tut-tut.
Ninth—In England, for convenience in claiming your baggage, change your name to Xenophon or Zymology—there are always about the baggage such crowds of persons who have the commoner initials, such as T for Thompson, J for Jones, and S for Smith. When next I go to England my name will be Zoroaster—Quintus P. Zoroaster.
Tenth—If possible avoid patronizing the so-called refreshment wagons or dining cars, which are expensive and uniformly bad. Live off the country. Remember, the country is living off you.
Except eighty or ninety other things the British Channel was the most disappointing thing we encountered in our travels. All my reading on this subject had led me to expect that the Channel would be very choppy and that we should all be very seasick. Nothing of the sort befell. The channel may have been suetty but it was not choppy. The steamer that ferried us over ran as steadily as a clock and everybody felt as fine as a fiddle.
A friend of mine whom I met six weeks later in Florence had better luck. He crossed on an occasion when a test was being made of a device for preventing seasickness. A Frenchman was the inventor and also the experimenter. This Frenchman had spent valuable years of his life perfecting his invention. It resembled a hammock swung between uprights. The supports were to be bolted to the deck of the ship, and when the Channel began to misbehave the squeamish passenger would climb into the hammock and fasten himself in; and then, by a system of reciprocating oscillations, the hammock would counteract the motion of the ship and the occupant would rest in perfect comfort no matter how high she pitched or how deep she rolled. At least such was the theory of the inventor; and to prove it he offered himself as the subject for the first actual demonstration.
The result was unexpected. The sea was only moderately rough; but that patent hammock bucked like a kicking bronco. The poor Frenchman was the only seasick person aboard—but he was sick enough for the whole crowd. He was seasick with a Gallic abandon; he was seasick both ways from the jack, and other ways too. He was strapped down so he could not get out, which added no little to the pleasure of the occasion for everybody except himself. When the steamer landed the captain of the boat told the distressed owner that, in his opinion, the device was not suited for steamer use. He advised him to rent it to a riding academy.
In crossing from Dover to Calais we had thought we should be going merely from one country to another; we found we had gone from one world to another. That narrow strip of uneasy water does not separate two countries—it separates two planets.
Gone were the incredible stiffness and the incurable honesty of the race that belonged over yonder on those white chalk cliffs dimly visible along the horizon. Gone were the phlegm and stolidity of those people who manifest emotion only on the occasions when they stand up to sing their national anthem:
God save the King! The Queen is doing well!
Gone were the green fields of Sussex, which looked as though they had been taken in every night and brushed and dry-cleaned and then put down again in the morning. Gone were the trees that Maxfield Parrish might have painted, so vivid were they in their burnished green-and-yellow coloring, so spectacular in their grouping. Gone was the five-franc note which I had intrusted to a sandwich vender on the railroad platform in the vain hope that he would come back with the change. After that clincher there was no doubt about it—we were in La Belle France all right, all right!
Everything testified to the change. From the pier where we landed, a small boy, in a long black tunic belted in at his waist, was fishing; he hooked a little fingerling. At the first tentative tug on his line he set up a shrill clamor. At that there came running a fat, kindly looking old priest in a long gown and a shovel hat; and a market woman came, who had arms like a wrestler and skirts that stuck out like a ballet dancer's; and a soldier in baggy red pants came; and thirty or forty others of all ages and sizes came—and they gathered about that small boy and gave him advice at the top of their voices. And when he yanked out the shining little silver fish there could not have been more animation and enthusiasm and excitement if he had landed a full-grown Presbyterian.
They were still congratulating him when we pulled out and went tearing along on our way to Paris, scooting through quaint, stone-walled cities, each one dominated by its crumbly old cathedral; sliding through open country where the fields were all diked and ditched with small canals and bordered with poplars trimmed so that each tree looked like a set of undertaker's whiskers pointing the wrong way.
And in these fields were peasants in sabots at work, looking as though they had just stepped out of one of Millet's pictures. Even the haystacks and the scarecrows were different. In England the haystacks had been geometrically correct in their dimensions —so square and firm and exact that sections might be sliced off them like cheese, and doors and windows might be carved in them; but these French haystacks were devil-may-care haystacks wearing tufts on their polls like headdresses. The windmills had a rakish air; and the scarecrows in the truck gardens were debonair and cocky, tilting themselves back on their pins the better to enjoy the view and fluttering their ragged vestments in a most jaunty fashion. The land though looked poor—it had a driven, overworked look to it.
Presently, above the clacking voice of our train, we heard a whining roar without; and peering forth we beheld almost over our heads a big monoplane racing with us. It seemed a mighty, winged Thunder Lizard that had come back to link the Age of Stone with the Age of Air. On second thought I am inclined to believe the Thunder Lizard did not flourish in the Stone Age; but if you like the simile as much as I like it we will just let it stand.
Three times on that trip we saw from the windows of our train aviators out enjoying the cool of the evening in their airships; and each time the natives among the passengers jammed into the passageway that flanked the compartments and speculated regarding the identity of the aviators and the make of their machines, and argued and shrugged their shoulders and quarreled and gesticulated. The whole thing was as Frenchy as tripe in a casserole.
I was wrong, though, a minute ago when I said there remained nothing to remind us of the right little, tight little island we had just quit; for we had two Englishmen in our compartment—fit and proper representatives of a certain breed of Englishman. They were tall and lean, and had the languid eyes and the long, weary faces and the yellow buck teeth of weary cart-horses, and they each wore a fixed expression of intense gloom. You felt sure it was a fixed expression because any person with such an expression would change it if he could do so by anything short of a surgical operation. And it was quite evident they had come mentally prepared to disapprove of all things and all people in a foreign clime.
Silently, but none the less forcibly, they resented the circumstance that others should be sharing the same compartment with them—or sharing the same train, either, for that matter. The compartment was full, too, which made the situation all the more intolerable: an elderly English lady with a placid face under a mid-Victorian bonnet; a young, pretty woman who was either English or American; the two members of my party, and these two Englishmen.
And when, just as the train was drawing out of Calais, they discovered that the best two seats, which they had promptly preempted, belonged to others, and that the seats for which they held reservations faced rearward, so that they must ride with their backs to the locomotive—why, that irked them sore and more. I imagine they wrote a letter to the London Times about it afterward.
As is the pleasing habit of traveling Englishmen, they had brought with them everything portable they owned. Each one had four or five large handbags, and a carryall, and a hat box, and his tea-caddy, and his plaid blanket done up in a shawlstrap, and his framed picture of the Death of Nelson—and all the rest of it; and they piled those things in the luggage racks until both the racks were chock-full; so the rest of us had to hold our baggage in our laps or sit on it. One of them was facing me not more than five or six feet distant. He never saw me though. He just gazed steadily through me, studying the pattern of the upholstery on the seat behind me; and I could tell by his look that he did not care for the upholstering—as very naturally he would not, it being French.
We had traveled together thus for some hours when one of them began to cloud up for a sneeze. He tried to sidetrack it, but it would not be sidetracked. The rest of us, looking on, seemed to hear that sneeze coming from a long way off. It reminded me of a musical-sketch team giving an imitation of a brass band marching down Main Street playing the Turkish Patrol—dim and faint at first, you know, and then growing louder and stronger, and gathering volume until it bursts right in your face.
Fascinated, we watched his struggles. Would he master it or would it master him? But he lost, and it was probably a good thing he did. If he had swallowed that sneeze it would have drowned him. His nose jibed and went about; his head tilted back farther and farther; his countenance expressed deep agony, and then the log jam at the bend in his nose went out with a roar and he let loose the moistest, loudest kerswoosh! that ever was, I reckon.
He sneezed eight times. The first sneeze unbuttoned his waistcoat, the second unparted his hair, and the third one almost pulled his shoes off; and after that they grew really violent, until the last sneeze shifted his cargo and left him with a list to port and his lee scuppers awash. It made a ruin of him—the Prophet Isaiah could not have remained dignified wrestling with a sneezing bee of those dimensions—but oh, how it did gladden the rest of us to behold him at the mercy of the elements and to note what a sodden, waterlogged wreck they made of him!
It was not long after that before we had another streak of luck. The train jolted over something and a hat fell down from the topmost pinnacle of the mountain of luggage above and hit his friend on the nose. We should have felt better satisfied if it had been a coal scuttle; but it was a reasonably hard and heavy hat and it hit him brim first on the tenderest part of his nose and made his eyes water, and we were grateful enough for small blessings. One should not expect too much of an already overworked Providence.
The rest of us were still warm and happy in our souls when, without any whistle-tooting or bell-clanging or station-calling, we slid silently, almost surreptitiously, into the Gare du Nord, at Paris. Neither in England nor on the mainland does anyone feel called on to notify you that you have reached your destination.
It is like the old formula for determining the sex of a pigeon—you give the suspected bird some corn, and if he eats it he is a he; but if she eats it she is a she. In Europe if it is your destination you get off, and if it is not your destination you stay on. On this occasion we stayed on, feeling rather forlorn and helpless, until we saw that everyone else had piled off. We gathered up our belongings and piled off too.
By that time all the available porters had been engaged; so we took up our luggage and walked. We walked the length of the trainshed—and then we stepped right into the recreation hall of the State Hospital for the Criminal Insane, at Matteawan, New York. I knew the place instantly, though the decorations had been changed since I was there last. It was a joy to come on a home institution so far from home—joysome, but a trifle disconcerting too, because all the keepers had died or gone on strike or something; and the lunatics, some of them being in uniform and some in civilian dress, were leaping from crag to crag, uttering maniacal shrieks.
Divers lunatics, who had been away and were just getting back, and sundry lunatics who were fixing to go away and apparently did not expect ever to get back, were dashing headlong into the arms of still other lunatics, kissing and hugging them, and exchanging farewells and sacre-bleuing with them in the maddest fashion imaginable. From time to time I laid violent hands on a flying, flitting maniac and detained him against his will, and asked him for some directions; but the persons to whom I spoke could not understand me, and when they answered I could not understand them; so we did not make much headway by that. I could not get out of that asylum until I had surrendered the covers of our ticket books and claimed our baggage and put it through the customs office. I knew that; the trouble was I could not find the place for attending to these details. On a chance I tried a door, but it was distinctly the wrong place; and an elderly female on duty there got me out by employing the universal language known of all peoples. She shook her skirts at me and said Shoo! So I got out, still toting five or six bags and bundles of assorted sizes and shapes, and tried all the other doors in sight.
Finally, by a process of elimination and deduction, I arrived at the right one. To make it harder for me they had put it around a corner in an elbow-shaped wing of the building and had taken the sign off the door. This place was full of porters and loud cries. To be on the safe side I tendered retaining fees to three of the porters; and thus by the time I had satisfied the customs officials that I had no imported spirits or playing cards or tobacco or soap, or other contraband goods, and had cleared our baggage and started for the cabstand, we amounted to quite a stately procession and attracted no little attention as we passed along. But the tips I had to hand out before the taxi started would stagger the human imagination if I told you the sum total.
There are few finer things than to go into Paris for the first time on a warm, bright Saturday night. At this moment I can think of but one finer thing—and that is when, wearied of being short-changed and bilked and double-charged, and held up for tips or tribute at every step, you are leaving Paris on a Saturday night—or, in fact, any night.
Those first impressions of the life on the boulevards are going to stay in my memory a long, long time—the people, paired off at the tables of the sidewalk cafes, drinking drinks of all colors; a little shopgirl wearing her new, cheap, fetching hat in such a way as to center public attention on her head and divert it from her feet, which were shabby; two small errand boys in white aprons, standing right in the middle of the whirling, swirling traffic, in imminent peril of their lives, while one lighted his cigarette butt from the cigarette butt of his friend; a handful of roistering soldiers, singing as they swept six abreast along the wide, rutty sidewalk; the kiosks for advertising, all thickly plastered over with posters, half of which should have been in an art gallery and the other half in a garbage barrel; a well-dressed pair, kissing in the full glare of a street light; an imitation art student, got up to look like an Apache, and—no doubt—plenty of real Apaches got up to look like human beings; a silk-hatted gentleman, stopping with perfect courtesy to help a bloused workman lift a baby-laden baby carriage over an awkward spot in the curbing, and the workingman returning thanks with the same perfect courtesy; our own driver, careening along in a manner suggestive of what certain East Side friends of mine would call the Chariot Race from Ben Hirsch; and a stout lady of the middle class sitting under a cafe awning caressing her pet mole.
To the Belgian belongs the credit of domesticating the formerly ferocious Belgian hare, and the East Indian fakir makes a friend and companion of the king cobra; but it remained for those ingenious people, the Parisians, to tame the mole, which other races have always regarded as unbeautiful and unornamental, and make a cunning little companion of it and spend hours stroking its fleece. This particular mole belonging to the stout middle-aged lady in question was one of the largest moles and one of the curliest I ever saw. It was on the side of her nose.
You see a good deal of mole culture going on here. Later, with the reader's permission, we shall return to Paris and look its inhabitants over at more length; but for the time being I think it well for us to be on our travels. In passing I would merely state that on leaving a Paris hotel you will tip everybody on the premises.
Oh, yes—but you will!
Let us move southward. Let us go to Sunny Italy, which is called Sunny Italy for the same reason that the laughing hyena is called the laughing hyena—not because he laughs so frequently, but because he laughs so seldom. Let us go to Rome, the Eternal City, sitting on her Seven Hills, remembering as we go along that the currency has changed and we no longer compute sums of money in the franc but in the lira. I regret the latter word is not pronounced as spelled—it would give me a chance to say that the common coin of Italy is a lira, and that nearly everybody in Rome is one also.
Ah, Rome—the Roma of the Ancients—the Mistress of the Olden World—the Sacred City! Ah, Rome, if only your stones could speak! It is customary for the tourist, taking his cue from the guidebooks, to carry on like this, forgetting in his enthusiasm that, even if they did speak, they would doubtless speak Italian, which would leave him practically where he was before. And so, having said it myself according to formula, I shall proceed to state the actual facts:
If, coming forth from a huge and dirty terminal, you emerge on a splendid plaza, miserably paved, and see a priest, a soldier and a beggar; a beautiful child wearing nothing at all to speak of, and a hideous old woman with the eyes of a Madonna looking out of a tragic mask of a face; a magnificent fountain, and nobody using the water, and a great, overpowering smell—yes, you can see a Roman smell; a cart mule with ten dollars' worth of trappings on him, and a driver with ten cents' worth on him; a palace like a dream of stone, entirely surrounded by nightmare hovels; a new, shiny, modern apartment house, and shouldering up against it a cankered rubbish heap that was once the playhouse of a Caesar, its walls bearded like a pard's face with tufted laurel and splotched like a brandy drunkard's with red stains; a church that is a dismal ruin without and a glittering Aladdin's Cave of gold and gems and porphyry and onyx within; a wide and handsome avenue starting from one festering stew of slums and ending in another festering stew of slums; a grimed and broken archway opening on a lovely hidden courtyard where trees are green and flowers bloom, and in the center there stands a statue which is worth its weight in minted silver and which carries more than its weight in dirt—if in addition everybody in sight is smiling and good-natured and happy, and is trying to sell you something or wheedle you out of something, or pick your pocket of something—you need not, for confirmatory evidence, seek the vast dome of St. Peter's rising yonder in the distance, or the green tops of the cedars and the dusky clumps of olive groves on the hillsides beyond—you know you are in Rome.
To get the correct likeness of Naples we merely reduce the priests by one-half and increase the beggars by two-thirds; we richen the color masses, thicken the dirt, raise the smells to the Nth degree, and set half the populace to singing. We establish in every second doorway a mother with her offspring tucked between her knees and forcibly held there while the mother searches the child's head for a flea; anyhow, it is more charitable to say it is a flea; and we add a special touch of gorgeousness to the street pictures.
For here a cart is a glory of red tires and blue shafts, and green hubs and pink body and purple tailgate, with a canopy on it that would have suited Sheba's Queen; and the mule that draws the cart is caparisoned in brass and plumage like a circus pony; and the driver wears a broad red sash, part of a shirt, and half of a pair of pants—usually the front half. With an outfit such as that, you feel he should be peddling aurora borealises, or, at the very least, rainbows. It is a distinct shock to find he has only chianti or cheeses or garbage in stock.
In Naples, also, there is, even in the most prosaic thing, a sight to gladden your eye if you but hold your nose while you look on it. On the stalls of the truckvenders the cauliflowers and the cabbages are racked up with an artistic effect we could scarcely equal if we had roses and orchids to work with; the fishmonger's cart is a study in still life, and the tripe is what artists call a harmonious interior.
Nearly all the hotels in Italy are converted palaces. They may have been successes as palaces, but, with their marble floors and their high ceilings, and their dank, dark corridors, they distinctly fail to qualify as hotels. I should have preferred them remaining unsaved and sinful. I likewise observed a peculiarity common to hotelkeepers in Italy—they all look like cats. The proprietor of the converted palace where we stopped in Naples was the very image of a tomcat we used to own, named Plutarch's Lives, which was half Maltese and half Mormon. He was a cat that had a fine carrying voice—though better adapted for concert work than parlor singing—and a sweetheart in every port. This hotelkeeper might have been the cat's own brother with clothes on—he had Plute's roving eye and his bristling whiskers and his sharp white teeth, and Plute's silent, stealthy tread, and his way of purring softly until he had won your confidence and then sticking his claw into you. The only difference was, he stuck you with a bill instead of a claw.
Another interesting idiosyncrasy of the Italian hotelkeeper is that he invariably swears to you his town is the only honest town in Italy, but begs you to beware of the next town which, he assures you with his hand on the place where his heart would be if he had a heart, is full of thieves and liars and counterfeit money and pickpockets. Half of what he tells you is true—the latter half.
The tourist agencies issue pamphlets telling how you may send money or jewelry by registered mail in Italy, and then append a footnote warning you against sending money or jewelry by registered mail in Italy. Likewise you are constantly being advised against carrying articles of value in your trunk, unless it is most carefully locked, bolted and strapped. It is good advice too.
An American I met on the boat coming home told me he failed to take such precautions while traveling in Italy; and he said that when he reached the Swiss border his trunk was so light he had to sit on it to keep it from blowing off the bus on the way from the station to the hotel, and so empty that when he opened it at both ends the draft whistling through it gave him a bad cold. However, he may have exaggerated slightly.
If you can forget that you are paying first-class prices for fourth-rate accommodations—forget the dirt in the carriages and the smells in the compartments—a railroad journey through the Italian Peninsula is a wonderful experience. I know it was a wonderful experience for me.
I shall not forget the old walled towns of stone perched precariously on the sloping withers of razorbacked mountains—towns that were old when the Saviour was born; or the ancient Roman aqueducts, all pocked and pecked with age, looping their arches across the land for miles on miles; or the fields, scored and scarified by three thousand years of unremitting, relentless, everlasting agriculture; or the wide-horned Italian cattle that browsed in those fields; or yet the woman who darted to the door of every signal-house we passed and came to attention, with a long cudgel held flat against her shoulder like a sentry's musket.
I do not know why a woman should exhibit an overgrown broomstick when an Italian train passes a flag station, any more than I know why, when a squad of Paris firemen march out of the engine house for exercise, they should carry carbines and knapsacks. I only know that these things are done.
In Tuscany the vineyards make a fine show, for the vines are trained to grow up from the ground and then are bound into streamers and draped from one fruit tree or one shade tree to another, until a whole hillside becomes one long, confusing vista of leafy festoons. The thrifty owner gets the benefit of his grapes and of his trees, and of the earth below, too, for there he raises vegetables and grains, and the like. Like everything else in this land, the system is an old one. I judge it was old enough to be hackneyed when Horace wrote of it:
Now each man, basking on his slopes, Weds to his widowed tree the vine; Then, as he gayly quaffs his wine, Salutes thee god of all his hopes.
Classical quotations interspersed here and there are wonderful helps to a guide book, don't you think?
In rural Italy there are two other scenic details that strike the American as being most curious—one is the amazing prevalence of family washing, and the other is the amazing scarcity of birdlife. To himself the traveler says:
"What becomes of all this intimate and personal display of family apparel I see fluttering from the front windows of every house in this country? Everybody is forever washing clothes but nobody ever wears it after it is washed. And what has become of all the birds?"
For the first puzzle there is no key, but the traveler gets the answer to the other when he passes a meat-dealer's shop in the town and sees spread on the stalls heaps of pitiably small starlings and sparrows and finches exposed for sale. An Italian will cook and eat anything he can kill that has wings on it, from a cassowary to a katydid.
Thinking this barbarity over, I started to get indignant; but just in time I remembered what we ourselves have done to decimate the canvas-back duck and the wild pigeon and the ricebird and the red-worsted pulse-warmer, and other pleasing wild creatures of the earlier days in America, now practically or wholly extinct. And I felt that before I could attend to the tomtits in my Italian brother's eye I must needs pluck a few buffaloes out of my own; so I decided, in view of those things, to collect myself and endeavor to remain perfectly calm.
We came into Venice at the customary hour—to wit, eleven P.M. —and had a real treat as our train left the mainland and went gliding far out, seemingly right through the placid Adriatic, to where the beaded lights of Venice showed like a necklace about the withered throat of a long-abandoned bride, waiting in the rags of her moldered wedding finery for a bridegroom who comes not.
Better even than this was the journey by gondola from the terminal through narrow canals and under stone bridges where the water lapped with little mouthing tongues at the walls, and the tall, gloomy buildings almost met overhead, so that only a tiny strip of star-buttoned sky showed between. And from dark windows high up came the tinkle of guitars and the sound of song pouring from throats of silver. And so we came to our hotel, which was another converted palace; but baptism is not regarded as essential to salvation in these parts.
On the whole, Venice did not impress me as it has impressed certain other travelers. You see, I was born and raised in one of those Ohio Valley towns where the river gets emotional and temperamental every year or two. In my youth I had passed through several of these visitations, when the family would take the family plate and the family cow, and other treasures, and retire to the attic floor to wait for the spring rise to abate; and when really the most annoying phase of the situation for a housekeeper, sitting on the top landing of his staircase watching the yellow wavelets lap inch by inch over the keys of the piano, and inch by inch climb up the new dining-room wallpaper, was to hear a knocking at a front window upstairs and go to answer it and find that Moscoe Burnett had come in a john-boat to collect the water tax.
The Grand Canal did not stir me as it has stirred some—so far back as '84 I could remember when Jefferson Street at home looked almost exactly like that.
Going through the Austrian Tyrol, between Vienna and Venice, I met two old and dear friends in their native haunts—the plush hat and the hot dog. When such a thing as this happens away over on the other side of the globe it helps us to realize how small a place this world is after all, and how closely all peoples are knitted together in common bonds of love and affection. The hot dog, as found here, is just as we know him throughout the length and breadth of our own land—a dropsical Wienerwurst entombed in the depths of a rye-bread sandwich, with a dab of horse-radish above him to mark his grave; price, creation over, five cents the copy.
The woolly plush hat shows no change either, except that if anything it is slightly woollier in the Alps than among us. As transplanted, the dinky little bow at the back is an affectation purely—but in these parts it is logical and serves a practical and a utilitarian purpose, because the mountain byways twist and turn and double, and the local beverages are potent brews; and the weary mountaineer, homeward-bound afoot at the close of a market day, may by the simple expedient of reaching up and fingering his bow tell instantly whether he is going or coming.
This is also a great country for churches. Every group of chalets that calls itself a village has at least one long-spired gray church in its midst, and frequently more than one. In one sweep of hillside view from our car window I counted seven church steeples. I do not think it was a particularly good day for churches either; I wished I might have passed through on a Sunday, when they would naturally be thicker.
Along this stretch of railroad the mountaineers come to the stations wearing the distinctive costume of their own craggy and slabsided hills—the curling pheasant feather in the hatbrim; the tight-fitting knee-breeches; the gaudy stockings; and the broad-suspendered belt with rows of huge brass buttons spangling it up and down and crosswise. Such is your pleasure at finding these quaint habiliments still in use amid settings so picturesque that you buy freely of the fancy-dressed individual's wares—for he always has something to sell.
And then as your train pulls out, if by main force and awkwardness you jam a window open, as I did, and cast your eyes rearward for a farewell peek, as I did, you will behold him, as I did, pulling off his parade clothes and climbing into the blue overalls and the jean jumpers of prosaic civilization, to wait until the next carload lot of foreign tourists rolls in. The European peasant is indeed a simple, guileless creature—if you are careless about how you talk.
In this district and on beyond, the sight of women doing the bulk of the hard and dirty farmwork becomes common. You see women plowing; women hoeing; women carrying incredibly huge bundles of fagots and fodder on their heads; women hauling heavy carts, sometimes with a straining, panting dog for a teammate, sometimes unaccompanied except by a stalwart father or husband, or brother or son, who, puffing a china-bowled pipe, walks alongside to see that the poor human draft-animals do not shirk or balk, or shy over the traces.
To one coming from a land where no decent man raises his hand against a woman—except, of course, in self-defense—this is indeed a startling sight to see; but worse is in store for him when he reaches Bohemia, on the upper edge of the Austrian Empire. In Bohemia, if there is a particularly nasty and laborious job to be done, such as spading up manure in the rain or grubbing sugar-beets out of the half-frozen earth, they wish it on the dear old grandmother. She always seemed to me to be a grandmother—or old enough for one anyway. Perhaps, though, it is the life they lead, and not the years, that bends the backs of these women and thickens their waists and mats their hair and turns their feet into clods and their hands into swollen, red monstrosities.
Surely the Walrus, in Alice in Wonderland, had Germany in mind when he said the time had come to speak of cabbages and kings —because Germany certainly does lead the known world in those two commodities. Everywhere in Germany you see them—the cabbages by the millions and the billions, growing rank and purple in the fields and giving promise of the time when they will change from vegetable to vine and become the fragrant and luscious trailing sauerkraut; but the kings, in stone or bronze, stand up in the marketplace or the public square, or on the bridge abutment, or just back of the brewery, in every German city and town along the route.
By these surface indications alone the most inexperienced traveler would know he had reached Germany, even without the halt at the custom house on the border; or the crossing watchman in trim uniform jumping to attention at every roadcrossing; or the beautifully upholstered, handswept state forests; or the hedges of willow trees along the brooks, sticking up their stubby, twiggy heads like so many disreputable hearth-brooms; or the young grain stretching in straight rows crosswise of the weedless fields and looking, at a distance, like fair green-printed lines evenly spaced on a wide brown page. Also, one observes everywhere surviving traces that are unmistakable of the reign of that most ingenious and wideawake of all the earlier rulers of Germany, King Verboten the Great.
In connection with the life and works of this distinguished ruler is told an interesting legend well worthy of being repeated here. It would seem that King Verboten was the first crowned head of Europe to learn the value of keeping his name constantly before the reading public. Rameses the Third of Egypt—that enterprising old constant advertiser who swiped the pyramids of all his predecessors and had his own name engraved thereon—had been dead for many centuries and was forgotten when Verboten mounted the throne, and our own Teddy Roosevelt would not be born for many centuries yet to come; so the idea must have occurred to King Verboten spontaneously, as it were. Therefore he took counsel with himself, saying:
"I shall now erect statues to myself. Dynasties change and wars rage, and folks grow fickle and tear down statues. None of that for your Uncle Dudley K. Verboten! No; this is what I shall do: On every available site in the length and breadth of this my realm I shall stick up my name; and, wherever possible, near to it I shall engrave or paint the names of my two favorite sons, Ausgang and Eingang—to the end that, come what may, we shall never be forgotten in the land of our birth."
And then he went and did it; and it was a thorough job—so thorough a job that, to this good year of our Lord you may still see the name of that wise king everywhere displayed in Germany—on railroad stations and in railroad trains; on castle walls and dead walls and brewery walls, and the back fence of the Young Ladies' High School. And nearly always, too, you will find hard by, over doors and passageways, the names of his two sons, each accompanied or underscored by the heraldic emblem of their house—a barbed and feathered arrow pointing horizontally.
And so it was that King Verboten lived happily ever after and in the fullness of time died peacefully in his bed, surrounded by his wives, his children and his courtiers; and all of them sorrowed greatly and wept, but the royal signpainter sorrowed most of all.
I know that certain persons will contest the authenticity of this passage of history; they will claim Verboten means in our tongue Forbidden, and that Ausgang means Outgoing, and Eingang means Incoming—or, in other words, Exit and Entrance; but surely this could not be so. If so many things were forbidden, a man in Germany would be privileged only to die—and probably not that, unless he died according to a given formula; and certainly no human being with the possible exception of the comedian who used to work the revolving-door trick in Hanlon's Fantasma, could go out of and come into a place so often without getting dizzy in the head. No —the legend stands as stated.
Even as it is, there are rules enough in Germany, rules to regulate all things and all persons. At first, to the stranger, this seems an irksome arrangement—this posting of rules and orders and directions and warnings everywhere—but he finds that everyone, be he high or low, must obey or go to jail; there are no exceptions and no evasions; so that what is a duty on all is a burden on none.
Take the trains, for example. Pretty much all over the Continent the railroads are state-owned and state-run, but only in Germany are they properly run. True, there are so many uniformed officials aboard a German train that frequently there is barely room for the paying travelers to squeeze in; but the cars are sanitary and the schedule is accurately maintained, and the attendants are honest and polite and cleanly of person—wherein lies another point of dissimilarity between them and those scurvy, musty, fusty brigands who are found managing and operating trains in certain nearby countries.
I remember a cup of coffee I had while going from Paris to Berlin. It was made expressly for me by an invalided commander-in-chief of the artillery corps of the imperial army—so I judged him to be by his costume, air and general deportment—who was in charge of our carriage and also of the small kitchen at the far end of it.
He came into our compartment and bowed and clicked his heels together and saluted, and wanted to know whether I would take coffee. Recklessly I said I would. He filled in several blanks of a printed form, and went and cooked the coffee and brought it back, pausing at intervals as he came along to fill in other blanks. Would I take cream in my coffee? I would; so he filled in a couple of blanks. Would I take sugar? I said I would take two lumps. He put in two lumps and filled in another blank.
I really prefer my coffee with three lumps in it; but I noticed that his printed form was now completely filled in, and I hated to call for a third lump and put him to the trouble of starting his literary labors all over again. Besides, by that time the coffee would be cold. So I took it as it was—with two lumps only—and it was pretty fair coffee for European coffee. It tasted slightly of the red tape and the chicory, but it was neatly prepared and promptly served.
And so, over historic streams no larger than creeks would be in America, and by castles and cabbages and kings and cows, we came to Berlin; and after some of the other Continental cities Berlin seemed a mighty restful spot to be in, and a good one to tarry in awhile. It has few historical associations, has Berlin, but we were loaded to the gills with historical associations by now. It does not excel greatly in Old Masters, but we had already gazed with a languid eye upon several million Old Masters of all ages, including many very young ones. It has no ancient monuments and tombs either, which is a blessing. Most of the statuary in Berlin is new and shiny and provided with all the modern conveniences —the present kaiser attended competently to that detail. Wherever, in his capital, there was space for a statue he has stuck up one in memory of a member of his own dynasty, beginning with a statue apiece for such earlier rulers as Otho the Oboe-Player, and Joachim, surnamed the Half-a-Ton—let some one correct me if I have the names wrong—and finishing up with forty or fifty for himself. That is, there were forty or fifty of him when I was there. There are probably more now.
In its essentials Berlin suggests a progressive American city, with Teutonic trimmings. Conceive a bit of New York, a good deal of Chicago, a scrap of Denver, a slice of Hoboken, and a whole lot of Milwaukee; conceive this combination as being scoured every day until it shines; conceive it as beautifully though somewhat profusely governed, and laid out with magnificent drives, and dotted with big, handsome public buildings, and full of reasonably honest and more than reasonably kindly people—and you have Berlin.
It was in Berlin that I picked up the most unique art treasure I found anywhere on my travels—a picture of the composer Verdi that looked exactly like Uncle Joe Cannon, without the cigar; whereas Uncle Joe Cannon does not look a thing in the world like Verdi, and probably wouldn't if he could.
I have always regretted that our route through the German Empire took us across the land of the Hessians after dark, for I wanted to see those people. You will recollect that when George the Third, of England, first put into actual use the doctrine of Hands Across the Sea he used the Hessians.
They were hired hands.
It was at a small dinner party in a home out in Passy—which is to Paris what Flatbush is to Brooklyn—that the event hereinafter set forth came to pass. Our host was an American who had lived abroad a good many years; and his wife, our hostess, was a French woman as charming as she was pretty and as pretty as she could be.
The dinner was going along famously. We had hors-d'oeuvres, the soup and the hare—all very tasty to look on and very soothing to the palate. Then came the fowl, roasted, of course—the roast fowl is the national bird of France—and along with the fowl something exceedingly appetizing in the way of hearts of lettuce garnished with breasts of hothouse tomatoes cut on the bias.
When we were through with this the servants removed the debris and brought us hot plates. Then, with the air of one conferring a real treat on us, the butler bore around a tureen arrangement full of smoking-hot string-beans. When it came my turn I helped myself —copiously—and waited for what was to go with the beans. A pause ensued—to my imagination an embarrassed pause. Seeking a cue I glanced down the table and back again. There did not appear to be anything to go with the beans. The butler was standing at ease behind his master's chair—ease for a butler, I mean—and the other guests, it seemed to me, were waiting and watching. To myself I said:
"Well, sir, that butler certainly has made a J. Henry Fox Pass of himself this trip! Here, just when this dinner was getting to be one of the notable successes of the present century, he has to go and derange the whole running schedule by serving the salad when he should have served the beans, and the beans when he should have served the salad. It's a sickening situation; but if I can save it I'll do it. I'll be well bred if it takes a leg!"
So, wearing the manner of one who has been accustomed all his life to finishing off his dinner with a mess of string-beans, I used my putting-iron; and from the edge of the fair green I holed out in three. My last stroke was a dandy, if I do say it myself. The others were game too—I could see that. They were eating beans as though beans were particularly what they had come for. Out of the tail of my eye I glanced at our hostess, sitting next to me on the left. She was placid, calm, perfectly easy. Again addressing myself mentally I said:
"There's a thoroughbred for you! You take a woman who got prosperous suddenly and is still acutely suffering from nervous culture, and if such a shipwreck had occurred at her dinner table she'd be utterly prostrated by now—she'd be down and out—and we'd all be standing back to give her air; but when they're born in the purple it shows in these big emergencies. Look at this woman now—not a ripple on the surface—balmy as a summer evening! But in about one hour from now, Central European time, I can see her accepting that fool butler's resignation before he's had time to offer it!"
After the beans had been cleared off the right-of-way we had the dessert and the cheese and the coffee and the rest of it. And, as we used to say in the society column down home when the wife of the largest advertiser was entertaining, "at a suitable hour those present dispersed to their homes, one and all voting the affair to have been one of the most enjoyable occasions among like events of the season." We all knew our manners—we had proved that.
Personally I was very proud of myself for having carried the thing off so well but after I had survived a few tables d'hote in France and a few more in Austria and a great many in Italy, where they do not have anything at the hotels except tables d'hote, I did not feel quite so proud. For at this writing in those parts the slender, sylphlike string-bean is not playing a minor part, as with us. He has the best spot on the evening bill—he is a headliner. So is the cauliflower; so is the Brussels sprout; so is any vegetable whose function among our own people is largely scenic.
Therefore I treasured the memory of this incident and brought it back with me; and I tell it here at some length of detail because I know how grateful my countrywomen will be to get hold of it—I know how grateful they always are when they learn about a new gastronomical wrinkle. Mind you, I am not saying that the notion is an absolute novelty here. For all I know to the contrary, prominent hostesses along the Gold Coast of the United States —Bar Harbor to Palm Beach inclusive—may have been serving one lone vegetable as a separate course for years and years; but I feel sure that throughout the interior the disclosure will come as a pleasant surprise.
The directions for executing this coup are simple and all the deadlier because they are so simple. The main thing is to invite your chief opponent as a smart entertainer; you know the one I mean—the woman who scored such a distinct social triumph in the season of 1912-13 by being the first woman in town to serve tomato bisque with whipped cream on it. Have her there by all means. Go ahead with your dinner as though naught sensational and revolutionary were about to happen. Give them in proper turn the oysters, the fish, the entree, the bird, the salad. And then, all by itself, alone and unafraid, bring on a dab of string-beans.
Wait until you see the whites of their eyes, and aim and fire at will. Settle back then, until the first hushed shock has somewhat abated—until your dazed and suffering rival is glaring about in a well-bred but flustered manner, looking for something to go with the beans. Hold her eye while you smile a smile that is compounded of equal parts—superior wisdom, and gentle contempt for her ignorance—and then slowly, deliberately, dip a fork into the beans on your plate and go to it.
Believe me, it cannot lose. Before breakfast time the next morning every woman who was at that dinner will either be sending out invitations for a dinner of her own and ordering beans, or she will be calling up her nearest and best friend on the telephone to spread the tidings. I figure that the intense social excitement occasioned in this country a few years ago by the introduction of Russian salad dressing will be as nothing in comparison.
This stunt of serving the vegetable as a separate course was one of the things I learned about food during our flittings across Europe, but it was not the only thing I learned—by a long shot it was not. For example I learned this—and I do not care what anybody else may say to the contrary either—that here in America we have better food and more different kinds of food, and food better cooked and better served than the effete monarchies of the Old World ever dreamed of. And, quality and variety considered, it costs less here, bite for bite, than it costs there.
Food in Germany is cheaper than anywhere else almost, I reckon; and, selected with care and discrimination, a German dinner is an excellently good dinner. Certain dishes in England—and they are very certain, for you get them at every meal—are good, too, and not overly expensive. There are some distinctive Austrian dishes that are not without their attractions either. Speaking by and large, however, I venture the assertion that, taking any first-rate restaurant in any of the larger American cities and balancing it off against any establishment of like standing in Europe, the American restaurant wins on cuisine, service, price, flavor and attractiveness.
Centuries of careful and constant press-agenting have given French cookery much of its present fame. The same crafty processes of publicity, continued through a period of eight or nine hundred years, have endowed the European scenic effects with a glamour and an impressiveness that really are not there, if you can but forget the advertising and consider the proposition on its merits.
Take their rivers now—their historic rivers, if you please. You are traveling—heaven help you—on a Continental train. Between spells of having your ticket punched or torn apart, or otherwise mutilated; and getting out at the border to see your trunks ceremoniously and solemnly unloaded and unlocked, and then as ceremoniously relocked and reloaded after you have conferred largess on everybody connected with the train, the customs regulations being mainly devised for the purpose of collecting not tariff but tips—between these periods, which constitute so important a feature of Continental travel—you come, let us say, to a stream.
It is a puny stream, as we are accustomed to measure streams, boxed in by stone walls and regulated by stone dams, and frequently it is mud-colored and, more frequently still, runs between muddy banks. In the West it would probably not even be dignified with a regular name, and in the East it would be of so little importance that the local congressman would not ask an annual appropriation of more than half a million dollars for the purposes of dredging, deepening and diking it. But even as you cross it you learn that it is the Tiber or the Arno, the Elbe or the Po; and, such is the force of precept and example, you immediately get all excited and worked up over it.
English rivers are beautiful enough in a restrained, well-managed, landscape-gardened sort of way; but Americans do not enthuse over an English river because of what it is in itself, but because it happens to be the Thames or the Avon—because of the distinguished characters in history whose names are associated with it.
Hades gets much of its reputation the same way.
I think of one experience I had while touring through what we had learned to call the Dachshund District. Our route led us alongside a most inconsequential-looking little river. Its contents seemed a trifle too liquid for mud and a trifle too solid for water. On the nearer bank was a small village populated by short people and long dogs. Out in midstream, making poor headway against the semi-gelid current, was a little flutter-tailed steamboat panting and puffing violently and kicking up a lather of lacy spray with its wheelbuckets in a manner to remind you of a very warm small lady fanning herself with a very large gauze fan, and only getting hotter at the job.
In America that stream would have been known as Mink Creek or Cassidy's Run, or by some equally poetic title; but when I found out it was the Danube—no less—I had a distinct thrill. On closer examination I discovered it to be a counterfeit thrill; but nevertheless, I had it.
What applies in the main to the scenery applies in the main to the food. France has the reputation of breeding the best cooks in the world—and maybe she does; but when you are calling in France you find most of them out. They have emigrated to America, where a French chef gets more money in one year for exercising his art —and gets it easier—than he could get in ten years at home—and is given better ingredients to cook with than he ever had at home.
The hotel in Paris at which we stopped served good enough meals, all of them centering, of course, round the inevitable poulet roti; but it took the staff an everlastingly long time to bring the food to you. If you grew reckless and ordered anything that was not on the bill it upset the entire establishment; and before they calmed down and relayed it in to you it was time for the next meal. Still, I must say we did not mind the waiting; near at hand a fascinating spectacle was invariably on exhibition.
At the next table sat an Italian countess. Anyhow they told me she was an Italian countess, and she wore jewelry enough for a dozen countesses. Every time I beheld her, with a big emerald earring gleaming at either side of her head, I thought of a Lenox Avenue local in the New York Subway. However, it was not so much her jewelry that proved such a fascinating sight as it was her pleasing habit of fetching out a gold-mounted toothpick and exploring the most remote and intricate dental recesses of herself in full view of the entire dining room, meanwhile making a noise like somebody sicking a dog on.
The Europeans have developed public toothpicking beyond anything we know. They make an outdoor pastime and function of it, whereas we pursue this sport more or less privately. Over there, a toothpick is a family heirloom and is handed down from one generation to another, and is operated in company ostentatiously. In its use some Europeans are absolutely gifted. But then we beat the world at open-air gum-chewing—so I reckon the honors are about even.
This particular hotel, in common with all other first-class hotels in Paris, was forgetful about setting forth on its menu the prices of its best dishes and its special dishes. I take it this arrangement was devised for the benefit of currency-quilted Americans. A Frenchman asks the waiter the price of an unpriced dish and then orders something else; but the American, as a rule, is either too proud or too foolish to inquire into these details. At home he is beset by a hideous fear that some waiter will think he is of a mercenary nature; and when he is abroad this trait in him is accentuated. So, in his carefree American way, he orders a portion of a dish of an unspecified value; whereupon the head waiter slips out to the office and ascertains by private inquiry how large a letter of credit the American is carrying with him, and comes back and charges him all the traffic will bear.
As for the keeper of a fashionable cafe on a boulevard or in the Rue de la Paix—well, alongside of him the most rapacious restaurant proprietor on Broadway is a kindly, Christian soul who is in business for his health—and not feeling very healthy at that. When you dine at one of the swagger boulevard places the head waiter always comes, just before you have finished, and places a display of fresh fruit before you, with a winning smile and a bow and a gesture, which, taken together, would seem to indicate that he is extending the compliments of the season and that the fruit will be on the house; but never did one of the intriguing scoundrels deceive me. Somewhere, years before, I had read statistics on the cost of fresh fruit in a Paris restaurant, and so I had a care. The sight of a bunch of hothouse grapes alone was sufficient to throw me into a cold perspiration right there at the table; and as for South African peaches, I carefully walked around them, getting farther away all the time. A peach was just the same as a pesthouse to me, in Paris.
Alas though! no one had warned me about French oysters, and once—just once—I ate some, which made two mistakes on my part, one financial and the other gustatory. They were not particularly flavorous oysters as we know oysters on this side of the ocean. The French oyster is a small, copper-tinted proposition, and he tastes something like an indisposed mussel and something like a touch of biliousness; but he is sufficiently costly for all purposes. The cafe proprietor cherishes him so highly that he refuses to vulgarize him by printing the asking price on the same menu. A person in France desirous of making a really ostentatious display of his affluence, on finding a pearl in an oyster, would swallow the pearl and wear the oyster on his shirtfront. That would stamp him as a person of wealth.
However, I am not claiming that all French cookery is ultra-exorbitant in price or of excessively low grade. We had one of the surprises of our lives when, by direction of a friend who knew Paris, we went to a little obscure cafe that was off the tourist route and therefore—as yet—unspoiled and uncommercialized. This place was up a back street near one of the markets; a small and smellsome place it was, decorated most atrociously. In the front window, in close juxtaposition, were a platter of French snails and a platter of sticky confections full of dark spots. There was no mistaking the snails for anything except snails; but the other articles were either currant buns or plain buns that had been made in an unscreened kitchen.
Within were marble-topped tables of the Louie-Quince period and stuffy wall-seats of faded, dusty red velvet; and a waiter in his shirtsleeves was wandering about with a sheaf of those long French loaves tucked under his arm like golf sticks, distributing his loaves among the diners. But somewhere in its mysterious and odorous depths that little bourgeois cafe harbored an honest-to-goodness cook. He knew a few things about grilling a pig's knuckle—that worthy person. He could make the knuckle of a pig taste like the wing of an angel; and what he could do with a skillet, a pinch of herbs and a calf's sweetbread passed human understanding.
Certain animals in Europe do have the most delicious diseases anyway—notably the calf and the goose, particularly the goose of Strasburg, where the pate de foie gras comes from. The engorged liver of a Strasburg goose must be a source of joy to all—except its original owner!
Several times we went back to the little restaurant round the corner from the market, and each time we had something good. The food we ate there helped to compensate for the terrific disillusionment awaiting us when we drove out of Paris to a typical roadside inn, to get some of that wonderful provincial cookery that through all our reading days we had been hearing about. You will doubtless recall the description, as so frequently and graphically dished up by the inspired writers of travelogue stuff—the picturesque, tumbledown place, where on a cloth of coarse linen—white like snow—old Marie, her wrinkled face abeam with hospitality and kindness, places the delicious omelet she has just made, and brings also the marvelous salad and the perfect fowl, and the steaming hot coffee fragrant as breezes from Araby the Blest, and the vin ordinaire that is even as honey and gold to the thirsty throat. You must know that passage?
We went to see for ourselves. At a distance of half a day's automobile run from Paris we found an establishment answering to the plans and specifications. It was shoved jam-up against the road, as is the French custom; and it was surrounded by a high, broken wall, on which all manner of excrescences in the shape of tiny dormers and misshapen little towers hung, like Texas ticks on the ears of a quarantined steer. Within the wall the numerous ruins that made up the inn were thrown together any fashion, some facing one way, some facing the other way, and some facing all ways at once; so that, for the housefly, so numerously encountered on these premises, it was but a short trip and a merry one from the stable to the dining room and back again.
Sure enough, old Marie was on the job. Not desiring to be unkind or unduly critical I shall merely state that as a cook old Marie was what we who have been in France and speak the language fluently would call la limite! The omelet she turned out for us was a thing that was very firm and durable, containing, I think, leather findings, with a sprinkling of chopped henbane on the top. The coffee was as feeble a counterfeit as chicory usually is when it is masquerading as coffee, and the vin ordinaire had less of the vin to it and more of the ordinaire than any we sampled elsewhere.
Right here let me say this for the much-vaunted vin ordinaire of Europe: In the end it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder—not like the ordinary Egyptian adder, but like a patent adder in the office of a loan shark, which is the worst stinger of the whole adder family. If consumed with any degree of freedom it puts a downy coat on your tongue next morning that causes you to think you inadvertently swallowed the pillow in your sleep. Good domestic wine costs as much in Europe as good domestic wine costs in America—possibly more than as much.
The souffle potatoes of old Marie were not bad to look on, but I did not test them otherwise. Even in my own country I do not care to partake of souffle potatoes unless I know personally the person who blew them up. So at the conclusion of the repast we nibbled tentatively at the dessert, which was a pancake with jelly, done in the image of a medicated bandage but not so tasty as one. And then I paid the check, which was of august proportions, and we came sadly away, realizing that another happy dream of youth had been shattered to bits. Only the tablecloth had been as advertised. It was coarse, but white like snow—like snow three days old in Pittsburgh.
Yet I was given to understand that was a typical rural French inn and fully up to the standards of such places; but if the manager of a roadhouse within half a day's ride of New York or Boston or Philadelphia served such food to his patrons, at such prices, the sheriff would have him inside of two months; and everybody would be glad of it too—except the sheriff. Also, no humane man in this country would ask a self-respecting cow to camp overnight in such outbuildings as abutted on the kitchen of this particular inn.
I am not denying that we have in America some pretty bad country hotels, where good food is most barbarously mistreated and good beds are rare to find, but we admit our shortcomings in this regard and we deplore them—we do not shellac them over with a glamour of bogus romance, with intent to deceive the foreign visitor to our shores. We warn him in advance of what he may expect and urge him to carry his rations with him.
It is almost unnecessary to add that old Marie gave us veal and poulet roti. According to the French version of the story of the Flood only two animals emerged from the Ark when the waters receded—one was an immature hen and the other was an adolescent calf. At every meal except breakfast—when they do not give you anything at all—the French give you veal and poulet roti. If at lunch you had the poulet roti first and afterward the veal, why, then at dinner they provide a pleasing variety by bringing on the veal first and the poulet roti afterward.
The veal is invariably stringy and coated over with weird sauces, and the poulet never appears at the table in her recognizable members—such as wings and drumsticks—but is chopped up with a cleaver into cross sections, and strange-looking chunks of the wreckage are sent to you. Moreover they cook the chicken in such a way as to destroy its original taste, and the veal in such a way as to preserve its original taste, both being inexcusable errors.
Nowhere in the larger Italian cities, except by the exercise of a most tremendous determination, can you get any real Italian cooking or any real Italian dishes. At the hotels they feed you on a pale, sad table-d'hote imitation of French cooking, invariably buttressed with the everlasting veal and the eternal poulet roti. At the finish of a meal the waiter brings you, on one plate, two small withered apples and a bunch of fly-specked sour grapes; and, on another plate, the mortal remains of some excessively deceased cheese wearing a tinfoil shroud and appropriately laid out in a small, white, coffin-shaped box.
After this had happened to me several times I told the waiter with gentle irony that he might as well screw the lid back on the casket and proceed with the obsequies. I told him I was not one of those morbid people who love to look on the faces of the strange dead. The funeral could not get under way too soon to suit me. It seemed to me that this funeral was already several days overdue. That was what I told him.
In my travels the best place I ever found to get Italian dishes was a basement restaurant under an old brownstone house on Forty-seventh Street, in New York. There you might find the typical dishes of Italy—I defy you to find them in Italy without a search-warrant. However, while in Italy the tourist may derive much entertainment and instruction from a careful study of table manners.
In our own land we produce some reasonably boisterous trenchermen, and some tolerably careless ones too. Several among us have yet to learn how to eat corn on the ear and at the same time avoid corn in the ear. A dish of asparagus has been known to develop fine acoustic properties, and in certain quarters there is a crying need for a sound-proof soup; but even so, and admitting these things as facts, we are but mere beginners in this line when compared with our European brethren.
In the caskets of memory I shall ever cherish the picture of a particularly hairy gentleman, apparently of Russian extraction, who patronized our hotel in Venice one evening. He was what you might call a human hazard—a golf-player would probably have thought of him in that connection. He was eating flour dumplings, using his knife for a niblick all the way round; and he lost every other shot in a concealed bunker on the edge of the rough; and he could make more noise sucking his teeth than some people could make playing on a fife.
There is a popular belief to the effect that the Neapolitan eats his spaghetti by a deft process of wrapping thirty or forty inches round the tines of his fork and then lifting it inboard, an ell at a time. This is not correct. The true Neapolitan does not eat his spaghetti at all—he inhales it. He gathers up a loose strand and starts it down his throat. He then respires from the diaphragm, and like a troupe of trained angleworms that entire mass of spaghetti uncoils itself, gets up off the plate and disappears inside him—en masse, as it were—and making him look like a man who is chinning himself over a set of bead portieres. I fear we in America will never learn to siphon our spaghetti into us thus. It takes a nation that has practiced deep breathing for centuries.
Under the head of European disillusionments I would rate, along with the vin ordinaire of the French vineyard and inkworks, the barmaid of Britain. From what you have heard on this subject you confidently expect the British barmaid to be buxom, blond, blooming, billowy, buoyant—but especially blond. On the contrary she is generally brunette, frequently middle-aged, in appearance often fair-to-middling homely, and in manner nearly always abounding with a stiffness and hauteur that would do credit to a belted earl, if the belting had just taken place and the earl was still groggy from the effects of it. Also, she has the notion of personal adornment that is common in more than one social stratum of women in England. If she has a large, firm, solid mound of false hair overhanging her brow like an impending landslide, and at least three jingly bracelets on each wrist, she considers herself well dressed, no matter what else she may or may not be wearing.
Often this lady is found presiding over an American bar, which is an institution now commonly met with in all parts of London. The American bar of London differs from the ordinary English bar of London in two respects, namely—there is an American flag draped over the mirror, and it is a place where they sell all the English drinks and are just out of all the American ones. If you ask for a Bronx the barmaid tells you they do not carry seafood in stock and advises you to apply at the fishmongers'—second turning to the right, sir, and then over the way, sir—just before you come to the bottom of the road, sir. If you ask for a Mamie Taylor she gets it confused in her mind with a Sally Lunn and sends out for yeastcake and a cookbook; and while you are waiting she will give you a genuine Yankee drink, such as a brandy and soda—or she will suggest that you smoke something and take a look at the evening paper.
If you do smoke something, beware—oh, beware!—of the native English cigar. When rolled between the fingers it gives off a dry, rustling sound similar to a shuck mattress. For smoking purposes it is also open to the same criticisms that a shuck mattress is. The flames smolder in the walls and then burst through in unexpected places, and the smoke sucks up the airshaft and mushrooms on your top floor; then the deadly back draft comes and the fatal firedamp, and when the firemen arrive you are a ruined tenement. Except the German, the French, the Belgian, the Austrian and the Italian cigar, the English cigar is the worst cigar I ever saw. I did not go to Spain; they tell me, though, the Spanish cigar has the high qualifications of badness. Spanish cigars are not really cigars at all, I hear; they fall into the classification of defective flues.
Likewise beware of the alleged American cocktail occasionally dispensed, with an air of pride and accomplished triumph, by the British barmaid of an American bar. If for purposes of experiment and research you feel that you must take one, order with it, instead of the customary olive or cherry, a nice boiled vegetable marrow. The advantage to be derived from this is that the vegetable marrow takes away the taste of anything else and does not have any taste of its own.
In the eating line the Englishman depends on the staples. He sticks to the old standbys. What was good enough for his fathers is good enough for him—in some cases almost too good. Monotony of victuals does not distress him. He likes his food to be humdrum; the humdrummer the better.
Speaking with regard to the whole country, I am sure we have better beef uniformly in America than in England; but there is at least one restaurant on the Strand where the roast beef is just a little bit superior to any other roast beef on earth. English mutton is incomparable, too, and English breakfast bacon is a joy forever. But it never seems to occur to an Englishman to vary his diet. I submit samples of the daily menu:
LUNCHEON DINNER Roast Beef Boiled Mutton Boiled Mutton Roast Beef Potatoes, Boiled Cabbage, Boiled Cabbage, Boiled Potatoes, Boiled Jam Tart Custard Custard Jam Tart Cheese Coffee Coffee Cheese TEA!
I know now why an Englishman dresses for dinner—it enables him to distinguish dinner from lunch.
His regular desserts are worthy of a line. The jam tart is a death-mask that went wrong and in coiisequence became morose and heavy of spirit, and the custard is a soft-boiled egg which started out in life to be a soft-boiled egg and at the last moment—when it was too late—changed its mind and tried to be something else.
In the City, where lunching places abound, the steamer works overtime and the stewpan never rests. There is one place, well advertised to American visitors, where they make a specialty of their beefsteak-and-kidney pudding. This is a gummy concoction containing steak, kidney, mushroom, oyster, lark—and sometimes W and Y. Doctor Johnson is said to have been very fond of it; this, if true, accounts for the doctor's disposition. A helping of it weighs two pounds before you eat it and ten pounds afterward. The kidney is its predominating influence. The favorite flower of the English is not the primrose. It is the kidney. Wherever you go, among the restaurants, there is always somebody operating on a steamed flour dumpling for kidney trouble.
The lower orders are much addicted to a dish known—if I remember the name aright—by the euphonious title of Toad in the Hole. Toad in the Hole consists of a full-grown and fragrant sheep's kidney entombed in an excavated retreat at the heart of a large and powerful onion, and then cooked in a slow and painful manner, so that the onion and the kidney may swap perfumes and flavors. These people do not use this combination for a weapon or for a disinfectant, or for anything else for which it is naturally purposed; they actually go so far as to eat it. You pass a cabmen's lunchroom and get a whiff of a freshly opened Toad in the Hole —and you imagine it is the German invasion starting and wonder why they are not removing the women and children to a place of safety. All England smells like something boiling, just as all France smells like something that needs boiling.
Seemingly the only Londoners who enjoy any extensive variety in their provender are the slum-dwellers. Out Whitechapel-way the establishment of a tripe dresser and draper is a sight wondrous to behold, and will almost instantly eradicate the strongest appetite; but it is not to be compared with an East End meatshop, where there are skinned sheep faces on slabs, and various vital organs of various animals disposed about in clumps and clusters. I was reminded of one of those Fourteenth Street museums of anatomy—tickets ten cents each; boys under fourteen not admitted. The East End butcher is not only a thrifty but an inquiring soul. Until I viewed his shop I had no idea that a sheep could be so untidy inside; and as for a cow—he finds things in a cow she didn't know she had.
Breakfast is the meal at which the Englishman rather excels; in fact England is the only country in Europe where the natives have the faintest conception of what a regular breakfast is, or should be. Moreover, it is now possible in certain London hotels for an American to get hot bread and ice-water at breakfast, though the English round about look on with undisguised horror as he consumes them, and the manager only hopes that he will have the good taste not to die on the premises.
It is true that, in lieu of the fresh fruit an American prefers, the waiter brings at least three kinds of particularly sticky marmalade and, in accordance with a custom that dates back to the time of the Druids, spangles the breakfast cloth over with a large number of empty saucers and plates, which fulfill no earthly purpose except to keep getting in the way. The English breakfast bacon, however, is a most worthy article, and the broiled kipper is juicy and plump, and does not resemble a dried autumn leaf, as our kipper often does. And the fried sole, on which the Englishman banks his breakfast hopes, invariably repays one for one's undivided attention. The English boast of their fish; but, excusing the kipper, they have but three of note—the turbot, the plaice and the sole. And the turbot tastes like turbot, and the plaice tastes like fish; but the sole, when fried, is most appetizing.
I have been present when the English gooseberry and the English strawberry were very highly spoken of, too, but with me this is merely hearsay evidence; we reached England too late for berries. Happily, though, we came in good season for the green filbert, which is gathered in the fall of the year, being known then as the Kentish cobnut. The Kentish cob beats any nut we have except the paper-shell pecan. The English postage stamp is also much tastier than ours. The space for licking is no larger, if as large—but the flavor lasts.
As I said before, the Englishman has no great variety of things to eat, but he is always eating them; and when he is not eating them he is swigging tea. Yet in these regards the German excels him. The Englishman gains a lap at breakfast; but after that first hour the German leaves him, hopelessly distanced, far in the rear. It is due to his talents in this respect that the average Berliner has a double chin running all the way round, and four rolls of fat on the back of his neck, all closely clipped and shaved, so as to bring out their full beauty and symmetry, and a figure that makes him look as though an earthquake had shaken loose everything on the top floor and it all fell through into his dining room.
Your true Berliner eats his regular daily meals—four in number and all large ones; and in between times he now and then gathers a bite. For instance, about ten o'clock in the morning he knocks off for an hour and has a few cups of hard-boiled coffee and some sweet, sticky pastry with whipped cream on it. Then about four in the afternoon he browses a bit, just to keep up his appetite for dinner. This, though, is but a snack—say, a school of Bismarck herring and a kraut pie, some more coffee and more cake, and one thing and another—merely a preliminary to the real food, which will be coming along a little later on. Between acts at the theater he excuses himself and goes out and prepares his stomach for supper, which will follow at eleven, by drinking two or three steins of thick Munich beer, and nibbling on such small tidbits as a rosary of German sausage or the upper half of a raw Westphalia ham. There are forty-seven distinct and separate varieties of German sausage and three of them are edible; but the Westphalia ham, in my judgment, is greatly overrated. It is pronounced Westfailure with the accent on the last part, where it belongs.
In Germany, however, there is a pheasant agreeably smothered in young cabbage which is delicious and in season plentiful. The only drawback to complete enjoyment of this dish is that the grasping and avaricious German restaurant keeper has the confounded nerve to charge you, in our money, forty cents for awhole pheasant and half a peck of cabbage—say, enough to furnish a full meal for two tolerably hungry adults and a growing child.
The Germans like to eat and they love a hearty eater. There should never be any trouble about getting a suitable person to serve us at the Kaiser's court if the Administration at Washington will but harken to the voice of experience. To the Germans the late Doctor Tanner would have been a distinct disappointment in an ambassadorial capacity; but there was a man who used to live in my congressional district who could qualify in a holy minute if he were still alive. He was one of Nature's noblemen, untutored but naturally gifted, and his name was John Wesley Bass. He was the champion eater of the world, specializing particularly in eggs on the shell, and cove oysters out of the can, with pepper sauce on them, and soda crackers on the side.
I regret to be compelled to state, however, that John Wesley is no more. At one of our McCracken County annual fairs, a few years back, he succumbed to overambition coupled with a mistake in judgment. After he had established a new world's record by eating at one sitting five dozen raw eggs he rashly rode on the steam merry-go-round. At the end of the first quarter of an hour he fainted and fell off a spotted wooden horse and never spoke again, but passed away soon after being removed to his home in an unconscious condition. I have forgotten what the verdict of the coroner's jury was—the attending physician gave it some fancy Latin name—but among laymen the general judgment was that our fellow townsman had just naturally been scrambled to death. It was a pity, too—the German people would have cared for John Wesley as an ambassador. He would have eaten his way right into their affections.
We have the word of history for it that Vienna was originally settled by the Celts, but you would hardly notice it now. On first impressions you would say that about Vienna there was a noticeable suggestion—a perceptible trace—of the Teutonic; and this applies to the Austrian food in the main. I remember a kind of Wiener-schnitzel, breaded, that I had in Vienna; in fact for the moment I do not seem to recall much else about Vienna. Life there was just one Wiener-schnitzel after another.
In order to spread sweetness and light, and to the end, furthermore, that the ignorant people across the salted seas might know something of a land of real food and much food, and plenty of it and plenty of variety to it, I would that I might bring an expedition of Europeans to America and personally conduct it up and down our continent and back and forth crosswise of it.
And if I had the money of a Carnegie or a Rockefeller I would do it, too, for it would be a greater act of charity than building public libraries or endowing public baths. I would include in my party a few delegates from England, where every day is All Soles' Day; and a few sausage-surfeited Teutons; and some Gauls, wearied and worn by the deadly poulet routine of their daily life, and a scattering representation from all the other countries over there.
In especial I would direct the Englishman's attention to the broiled pompano of New Orleans; the kingfish filet of New York; the sanddab of Los Angeles; the Boston scrod of the Massachusetts coast; and that noblest of all pan fish—the fried crappie of Southern Indiana. To these and to many another delectable fishling, would I introduce the poor fellow; and to him and his fellows I fain would offer a dozen apiece of Smith Island oysters on the half shell.
And I would take all of them to New England for baked beans and brown bread and codfish balls; but on the way we would visit the shores of Long Island for a kind of soft clam which first is steamed and then is esteemed. At Portsmouth, New Hampshire, they should each have a broiled lobster measuring thirty inches from tip to tip, fresh caught out of the Piscataqua River.
Vermont should come to them in hospitality and in pity, offering buckwheat cakes and maple sirup. But Rhode Island would bring a genuine Yankee blueberry pie and directions for the proper consumption of it, namely—discarding knife and fork, to raise a crusty, dripping wedge of blueberry pie in your hand to your mouth, and to take a first bite, which instantly changes the ground-floor plan of that pie from a triangle to a crescent; and then to take a second bite, and then to lick your fingers—and then there isn't any more pie.
Down in Kentucky I should engage Mandy Berry, colored, to fry for them some spring chickens and make for them a few pones of real cornbread. In Creole Louisiana they should sample crawfish gumbo; and in Georgia they should have 'possum baked with sweet potatoes; and in Tidewater Maryland, terrapin and canvasback; and in Illinois, young gray squirrels on toast; and in South Carolina, boiled rice with black-eyed peas; and in Colorado, cantaloupes; and in Kansas, young sweet corn; and in Virginia, country hams, not cured with chemicals but with hickory smoke and loving hands; and in Tennessee, jowl and greens.
And elsewhere they should have their whacking fill of prairie hen and suckling pig and barbecued shote, and sure-enough beefsteak, and goobers hot from the parching box; and scrapple, and yams roasted in hot wood-ashes; and hotbiscuit and waffles and Parker house rolls—and the thousand and one other good things that may be found in this our country, and which are distinctively and uniquely of this country.
Finally I would bring them back by way of Richmond, and there I would give them each an eggnog compounded with fresh cream and made according to a recipe older than the Revolution. If I had my way about it no living creature should be denied the right to bury his face in a brimming tumbler of that eggnog—except a man with a drooping red mustache.
By the time those gorged and converted pilgrims touched the Eastern seaboard again any one of them, if he caught fire, would burn for about four days with a clear blue flame, and many valuable packing-house by-products could be gleaned from his ruins. It would bind us all, foreigner and native alike, in closer ties of love and confidence, and it would turn the tide of travel westward from Europe, instead of eastward from America.
Let's do it sometime—and appoint me conductor of the expedition!
Among the furbearing races the adult male of the French species easily excels. Some fine peltries are to be seen in Italy, and there is a type of farming Englishman who wears a stiff set of burnishers projecting out round his face in a circular effect suggestive of a halo that has slipped down. In connection with whiskers I have heard the Russians highly commended. They tell me that, from a distance, it is very hard to distinguish a muzhik from a bosky dell, whereas a grand duke nearly always reminds one of something tasty and luxuriant in the line of ornamental arborwork. The German military man specializes in mustaches, preference being given to the Texas longhorn mustache, and the walrus and kitty-cat styles. A dehorned German officer is rarely found and a muley one is practically unknown. But the French lead all the world in whiskers—both the wildwood variety and the domesticated kind trained on a trellis. I mention this here at the outset because no Frenchman is properly dressed unless he is whiskered also; such details properly appertain to a chapter on European dress.
Probably every freeborn American citizen has at some time in his life cherished the dream of going to England and buying himself an outfit of English clothes—just as every woman has had hopes of visiting Paris and stocking up with Parisian gowns on the spot where they were created, and where—so she assumes—they will naturally be cheaper than elsewhere. Those among us who no longer harbor these fancies are the men and women who have tried these experiments.
After she has paid the tariff on them a woman is pained to note that her Paris gowns have cost her as much as they would cost her in the United States—so I have been told by women who have invested extensively in that direction. And though a man, by the passion of the moment, may be carried away to the extent of buying English clothes, he usually discovers on returning to his native land that they are not adapted to withstand the trying climatic conditions and the critical comments of press and public in this country. What was contemplated as a triumphal reentrance becomes a footrace to the nearest ready-made clothing store.
English clothes are not meant for Americans, but for Englishmen to wear: that is a great cardinal truth which Americans would do well to ponder. Possibly you have heard that an Englishman's clothes fit him with an air. They do so; they fit him with a lot of air around the collar and a great deal of air adjacent to the waistband and through the slack of the trousers; frequently they fit him with such an air that he is entirely surrounded by space, as in the case of a vacuum bottle. Once there was a Briton whose overcoat collar hugged the back of his neck; so they knew by that he was no true Briton, but an impostor—and they put him out of the union. In brief, the kind of English clothes best suited for an American to wear is the kind Americans make.
I knew these things in advance—or, anyway, I should have known them; nevertheless I felt our trip abroad would not be complete unless I brought back some London clothes. I took a look at the shop-windows and decided to pass up the ready-made things. The coat shirt; the shaped sock; the collar that will fit the neckband of a shirt, and other common American commodities, seemed to be practically unknown in London.
The English dress shirt has such a dinky little bosom on it that by rights you cannot refer to it as a bosom at all; it comes nearer to being what women used to call a guimpe. Every show-window where I halted was jammed to the gunwales with thick, fuzzy, woolen articles and inflammatory plaid waistcoats, and articles in crash for tropical wear—even through the glass you could note each individual crash with distinctness. The London shopkeeper adheres steadfastly to this arrangement. Into his window he puts everything he has in his shop except the customer. The customer is in the rear, with all avenues of escape expertly fenced off from him by the proprietor and the clerks; but the stock itself is in the show-window.
There are just two department stores in London where, according to the American viewpoint, the windows are attractively dressed. One of these stores is owned by an American, and the other, I believe, is managed by an American. In Paris there are many shops that are veritable jewel-boxes for beauty and taste; but these are the small specialty shops, very expensive and highly perfumed.
The Paris department stores are worse jumbles even than the English department stores. When there is a special sale under way the bargain counters are rigged up on the sidewalks. There, in the open air, buyer and seller will chaffer and bicker, and wrangle and quarrel, and kiss and make up again—for all the world to see. One of the free sights of Paris is a frugal Frenchman, with his face extensively haired over, pawing like a Skye terrier through a heap of marked-down lingerie; picking out things for the female members of his household to wear—now testing some material with his tongue; now holding a most personal article up in the sunlight to examine the fabric—while the wife stands humbly, dumbly by, waiting for him to complete his selections. So far as London was concerned, I decided to deny myself any extensive orgy in haberdashery. From similar motives I did not invest in the lounge suit to which an Englishman is addicted. I doubted whether it would fit the lounge we have at home—though, with stretching, it might, at that. My choice finally fell on an English raincoat and a pair of those baggy knee breeches such as an Englishman wears when he goes to Scotland for the moor shooting, or to the National Gallery, or any other damp, misty, rheumatic place.
I got the raincoat first. It was built to my measure; at least that was the understanding; but you give an English tailor an inch and he takes an ell. This particular tailor seemed to labor under the impression that I was going to use my raincoat for holding large public assemblies or social gatherings in—nothing that I could say convinced him that I desired it for individual use; so he modeled it on a generous spreading design, big at the bottom and sloping up toward the top like a pagoda. Equipped with guy ropes and a centerpole it would make a first-rate marquee for a garden party—in case of bad weather the refreshments could be served under it; but as a raincoat I did not particularly fancy it. When I put it on I sort of reminded myself of a covered wagon.
Nothing daunted by this I looked up the address of a sporting tailor in a side street off Regent Street, whose genius was reputed to find an artistic outlet in knee breeches. Before visiting his shop I disclosed my purpose to my traveling companion, an individual in whose judgment and good taste I have ordinarily every confidence, and who has a way of coming directly to the meat of a subject.
"What do you want with a pair of knee breeches?" inquired this person crisply.
"Why—er—for general sporting occasions," I replied.
"For instance, what occasions?"
"For golfing," I said, "and for riding, you know. And if I should go West next year they would come in very handy for the shooting."
"To begin with," said my companion, "you do not golf. The only extensive riding I have ever heard of your doing was on railway trains. And if these knee breeches you contemplate buying are anything like the knee breeches I have seen here in London, and if you should wear them out West among the impulsive Western people, there would undoubtedly be a good deal of shooting; but I doubt whether you would enjoy it—they might hit you!"
"Look here!" I said. "Every man in America who wears duck pants doesn't run a poultry farm. And the presence of a sailor hat in the summertime does not necessarily imply that the man under it owns a yacht. I cannot go back home to New York and face other and older members of the When-I-Was-in-London Club without some sartorial credentials to show for my trip. I am firmly committed to this undertaking. Do not seek to dissuade me, I beg of you. My mind is set on knee breeches and I shan't be happy until I get them."
So saying I betook myself to the establishment of this sporting tailor in the side street off Regent Street; and there, without much difficulty, I formed the acquaintance of a salesman of suave and urbane manners. With his assistance I picked out a distinctive, not to say striking, pattern in an effect of plaids. The goods, he said, were made of the wool of a Scotch sheep in the natural colors. They must have some pretty fancy-looking sheep in Scotland!
This done, the salesman turned me over to a cutter, who took me to a small room where incompleted garments were hanging all about like the quartered carcasses of animals in a butcher shop. The cutter was a person who dropped his H's and then, catching himself, gathered them all up again and put them back in his speech—in the wrong places. He surveyed me extensively with a square and a measuring line, meantime taking many notes, and told me to come back on the next day but one.
On the day named and at the hour appointed I was back. He had the garments ready for me. As, with an air of pride, he elevated them for my inspection, they seemed commodious—indeed, voluminous. I had told him, when making them, to take all the latitude he needed; but it looked now as though he had got it confused in his mind with longitude. Those breeches appeared to be constructed for cargo rather than speed.
With some internal misgivings I lowered my person into them while he held them in position, and when I had descended as far as I could go without entirely immuring myself, he buttoned the dewdabs at the knees; then he went round behind me and cinched them in abruptly, so that of a sudden they became quite snug at the waistline; the only trouble was that the waistline had moved close up under my armpits, practically eliminating about a foot and a half of me that I had always theretofore regarded as indispensable to the general effect. Right in the middle of my back, up between my shoulder blades there was a stiff, hard clump of something that bored into my spine uncomfortably. I could feel it quite plainly—lumpy and rough.
"Ow's that, sir?" he cheerily asked me, over my shoulder; but it seemed to me there was a strained, nervous note in his voice. "A bit of all right—eh, sir?"
"Well," I said, standing on tiptoe in an effort to see over the top, "you've certainly behaved very generously toward me—I'll say that much. Midships there appears to be about four or five yards of material I do not actually need in my business, being, as it happens, neither a harem favorite nor a professional sackracer. And they come up so high I'm afraid people will think the gallant coast-guards have got me in a lifebuoy and are bringing me ashore through the surf."
"You'll be wanting them a bit loose, sir, you know," he interjected, still snuggling close behind me. "All our gentlemen like them loose."
"Oh, very well," I said; "perhaps these things are mere details. However, I would be under deep obligations to you if you'd change 'em from barkentine to schooner rig, and lower away this gaff-topsail which now sticks up under my chin, so that I can luff and come up in the wind without capsizing. And say, what is that hard lump between my shoulders?"
"Nothing at all, sir," he said hastily; and now I knew he was flurried. "I can fix that, sir—in a jiffy, sir."
"Anyhow, please come round here in front where I can converse more freely with you on the subject," I said. I was becoming suspicious that all was not well with me back there where he was lingering. He came reluctantly, still half-embracing me with one arm.
Petulantly I wrestled my form free, and instantly those breeches seemed to leap outward in all directions away from me. I grabbed for them, and barely in time I got a grip on the yawning top hem. Peering down the cavelike orifice that now confronted me I beheld two spectral white columns, and recognized them as my own legs. In the same instant, also, I realized what that hard clump against my spine was, because when he took his hand away the clump was gone. He had been standing back there with some eight or nine inches of superfluous waistband bunched up in his fist.
The situation was embarrassing, and it would have been still more embarrassing had I elected to go forth wearing my breeches in their then state, because, to avoid talk, he would have had to go along too, walking immediately behind me and holding up the slack. And such a spectacle, with me filling the tonneau and he back behind on the rumble, would have caused comment undoubtedly.
That pantsmaker was up a stump! He looked reproachfully at me, chidingly at the breeches and sternly at the tapemeasure—which he wore draped round his neck like a pet snake—as though he felt convinced one of us was at fault, but could not be sure which one.
"I'm afraid, sir," he said, "that your figure is changing."
"I guess you're right," I replied with a soft sigh. "As well as I can judge I'm not as tall as I was day before yesterday by at least eighteen inches. And I've mislaid my diaphragm somewhere, haven't I?"
"'Ave them off, please, sir," he said resignedly. "I'll 'ave to alter them to conform, sir. Come back to-morrow."
I had them off and he altered them to conform, and I went back on the morrow; in fact I went back so often that after a while I became really quite attached to the place. I felt almost like a member of the firm. Between calls from me the cutter worked on those breeches. He cut them up and he cut them down; he sheared the back away and shingled the front, and shifted the buttons to and fro.
Still, even after all this, they were not what I should term an unqualified success. When I sat down in them they seemed to climb up on me so high, fore and aft, that I felt as short-waisted as a crush hat in a state of repose. And the only way I could get my hands into the hip pockets of those breeches was to take the breeches off first. As ear muffs they were fair but as hip pockets they were failures. Finally I told him to send my breeches, just as they were, to my hotel address—and I paid the bill.
I brought them home with me. On the day after my arrival I took them to my regular tailor and laid the case before him. I tried them on for him and asked him to tell me, as man to man, whether anything could be done to make those garments habitable. He called his cutter into consultation and they went over me carefully, meantime uttering those commiserating clucking sounds one tailor always utters when examining another tailor's handiwork. After this my tailor took a lump of chalk and charted out a kind of Queen Rosamond's maze of crossmarks on my breeches and said I might leave them, and that if surgery could save them he would operate. At any rate he guaranteed to cut them away sufficiently to admit of my breast bone coming out into the open once more.
In a week—about—he called me on the telephone and broke the sad news to me. My English riding pants would never ride me again. In using the shears he had made a fatal slip and had irreparably damaged them in an essential location. However, he said I need not worry, because it might have been worse; from what he had already cut out of them he had garnered enough material to make me a neat outing coat, and by scrimping he thought he might get a waistcoat to match.
I have my English raincoat; it is still in a virgin state so far as wearing it is concerned. I may yet wear it and I may not. If I wear it and you meet me on the street—and we are strangers—you should experience no great difficulty in recognizing me. Just start in at almost any spot on the outer orbit and walk round and round as though you were circling a sideshow tent looking for a chance to crawl under the canvas and see the curiosities for nothing; and after a while, if you keep on walking as directed, you will come to a person with a plain but subsantial face, and that will be me in my new English raincoat. Then again I may wear it to a fancy-dress ball sometime. In that case I shall stencil Pike's Peak or Bust! on the sidebreadth and go as a prairie schooner. If I can succeed in training a Missouri hound-dog to trail along immediately behind me the illusion will be perfect.
After these two experiences with the English tailor I gave up. Instead of trying to wear the apparel of the foreigner I set myself to the study of it. I would avoid falling into the habit of making comparisons between European institutions and American institutions that are forever favorable to the American side of the argument. To my way of thinking there is oniy one class of tourist-Americans to be encountered abroad worse than the class who go into hysterical rapture over everything they see merely because it is European, and that is the class who condemn offhand everything they see and find fault with everything merely because it is not American. But I must say that in the matter of outer habiliments the American man wins the decision on points nearly every whack.
In his evening garb, which generally fits him, but which generally is not pressed as to trouserlegs and coatsleeves, the Englishman makes anexceedingly good appearance. The swallow-tailed coat was created for the Englishman andhe for it; but on all other occasions the well-dressed American leads him—leads the world, for that matter. When a Frenchman attires himself in his fanciest regalia he merely succeeds in looking effeminate; whereas a German, under similar circumstances, bears a wadded-in, bulged-out, stuffed-up appearance. I never saw a German in Germany whose hat was not too small for him—just as I never saw a Japanese in Occidental garb whose hat was not too large for him—if it was a derby hat. If a German has on a pair of trousers that flare out at the bottom and a coat with angel sleeves—I think that is the correct technical term—and if the front of his coat is spangled over with the largest-sized horn buttons obtainable he regards himself as being dressed to the minute.
As for the women, I believe even the super-critical mantuamakers of Paris have begun to concede that, as a nation, the American women are the best-dressed women on earth. The French women have a way of arranging their hair and of wearing their hats and of draping their furs about their throats that is artistic beyond comparison. There may be a word insome folks' dictionaries fitly to describe it—there is no such word in mine; but when you have said that much you have said all there is to say. A French woman's feet are not shod well. French shoes, like all European shoes, are clumsy and awkward looking.
English children are well dressed because they are simply dressed; and the children themselves, in contrast to the overdressed, overly aggressive youngsters so frequently encountered in America, are mannerly and self-effacing, and have sane, simple, childish tastes. Young English girls are fresh and natural, but frequently frumpy; and the English married woman is generally dressed in poor taste and appears to have a most limited wardrobe. Apparently the husband buys all he wants, and then, if there is any money left over, the wife gets it to spend on herself.
Venturing one morning into a London chapel I saw a dowdy little woman of this type kneeling in a pew, chanting the responses to the service. Her blouse gaped open all the way down her back and she was saying with much fervor, "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done." She had too, but she didn't know it, as she knelt there unconsciously supplying a personal illustration for the spoken line.
The typical highborn English woman has pale blue eyes, a fine complexion and a clear-cut, rather expressionless face with a profile suggestive of the portraits seen on English postage stamps of the early Victorian period; but in the arranging of her hair any French shopgirl could give her lessons, and any smart American woman could teach her a lot about the knack of wearing clothes with distinction.
In England, that land of caste which is rigid enough to be cast iron, all men, with the exception of petty tradespeople, dress to match the vocations they follow. In America no man stays put—he either goes forward to a circle above the one into which he was born or he slips back into a lower one; and so he dresses to suit himself or his wife or his tailor. But in England the professional man advertises his calling by his clothes. Extreme stage types are ordinary types in London. No Southern silver-tongued orator of the old-time, string-tied, slouch-hatted, long- haired variety ever clung more closely to his official makeup than the English barrister clings to his spats, his shad-bellied coat and his eye-glass dangling on a cord. At a glance one knows the medical man or the journalist, the military man in undress or the gentleman farmer; also, by the same easy method, one may know the workingman and the penny postman. The workingman has a cap on his head and a neckerchief about his throat, and the legs of his corduroy trousers are tied up below the knees with strings—else he is no workingman.
When we were in London the postmen were threatening to go on strike. From the papers I gathered that the points in dispute had to do with better hours and better pay; but if they had been striking against having to wear the kind of cap the British Government makes a postman wear, their cause would have had the cordial support and intense sympathy of every American in town.
It remains for the English clerk to be the only Englishman who seeks, by the clothes he wears in his hours of ease, to appear as something more than what he really is. Off duty he fair1y dotes on the high hat of commerce. Frequently he sports it in connection with an exceedingly short and bobby sackcoat, and trousers that are four or five inches too short in the legs for him. The Parisian shopman harbors similar ambitions—only he expresses them with more attention to detail. The noon hour arriving, the French shophand doffs his apron and his air of deference. He puts on a high hat and a frock coat that have been on a peg behind the door all the morning, gathers up his cane and his gloves; and, becoming on the instant a swagger and a swaggering boulevardier, he saunters to his favorite sidewalk cafe for a cordial glassful of a pink or green or purple drink. When his little hour of glory is over and done with he returns to his counter, sheds his grandeur and is once more your humble and ingratiating servitor.
In residential London on a Sunday afternoon one beholds some weird and wonderful costumes. On a Sunday afternoon in a sub-suburb of a Kensington suburb I saw, passing through a drab, sad side street, a little Cockney man with the sketchy nose and unfinished features of his breed. He was presumably going to church, for he carried a large Testament under his arm. He wore, among other things, a pair of white spats, a long-tailed coat and a high hat. It was not a regular high hat, either, but one of those trick-performing hats which, on signal, will lie doggo or else sit up and beg. And he was riding a bicycle of an ancient vintage!
The most impressively got-up civilians in England—or in the world, either, for that matter—are the assistant managers and the deputy cashiers of the big London hotels. Compared with them the lilies of the field are as lilies in the bulb. Their collars are higher, their ties are more resplendent, their frock coats more floppy as to the tail and more flappy as to the lapel, than it is possible to imagine until you have seen it all with your own wondering eyes. They are haughty creatures, too, austere and full of a starchy dignity; but when you come to pay your bill you find at least one of them lined up with the valet and the waiter, the manservant and the maidservant, the ox and the ass, hand out and palm open to get his tip. Having tipped him you depart feeling ennobled and uplifted —as though you had conferred a purse of gold on a marquis.
With us it is the dress of the women that gives life and color to the shifting show of street life. In Europe it is the soldier, and in England the private soldier particularly. The German private soldier is too stiff, and the French private soldier is too limber, and the Italian private soldier has been away from the dry-cleanser's too long; but the British Tommy Atkins is a perfect piece of work —what with his dinky cap tilted over one eye, and his red tunic that fits him without blemish or wrinkle, and his snappy little swagger stick flirting the air. As a picture of a first-class fighting man I know of but one to match him, and that is a khaki-clad, service-hatted Yankee regular—long may he wave!
There may be something finer in the way of a military spectacle than the change of horse-guards at Whitehall or the march of the foot-guards across the green in St. James' Park on a fine, bright morning—but I do not know what it is. One day, passing Buckingham Palace, I came on a footguard on duty in one of the little sentry boxes just outside the walls. He did not look as though he were alive. He looked as though he had been stuffed and mounted by a most expert taxidermist. From under his bearskin shako and from over his brazen chin-strap his face stared out unwinking and solemn and barren of thought.
I said to myself: "It is taking a long chance, but I shall ascertain whether this party has any human emotions." So I halted directly in front of him and began staring fixedly at his midriff as though I saw a button unfastened there or a buckle disarranged. For a space of minutes I kept my gaze on him without cessation.
Finally the situation grew painful; but it was not that British grenadier who grew embarrassed and fidgety—it was the other party to the transaction. His gaze never shifted, his eyes never wavered—but I came away feeling all wriggly.
In no outward regard whatsoever do the soldiers on the Continent compare with the soldiers of the British archipelago. When he is not on actual duty the German private is always going somewhere in a great hurry with something belonging to his superior officer—usually a riding horse or a specially heavy valise. On duty and off he wears that woodenness of expression—or, rather, that wooden lack of expression—which is found nowhere in such flower of perfection as on the faces of German soldiers and German toys.
The Germans prove they have a sense of humor by requiring their soldiers to march on parade with the goose step; and the French prove they have none at all by incasing the defenseless legs of their soldiers in those foolish red-flannel pants that are manufactured in such profusion up at the Pantheon.
In the event of another war between the two nations I anticipate a frightful mortality among pants—especially if the French forces should be retreating. The German soldier is not a particularly good marksman as marksmen go, but he would have to be the worst shot in the world to miss a pair of French pants that were going away from him at the time.
Still, when all is said and done, there is something essentially Frenchy about those red pants. There is something in their length that instinctively suggests Toulon, something in their breadth that makes you think of Toulouse. I realize that this joke, as it stands, is weak and imperfect. If there were only another French seaport called Toubagge I could round it out and improve it structurally.
If the English private soldier is the trimmest, the Austrian officer is the most beautiful to look on. An Austrian officer is gaudier than the door-opener of a London cafe or the porter of a Paris hotel. He achieves effects in gaudiness which even time Italian officer cannot equal.
The Italian officer is addicted to cock feathers and horsetails on his helmet, to bits of yellow and blue let into his clothes, to tufts of red and green hung on him in unexpected and unaccountable spots. Either the design of bottled Italian chianti is modeled after the Italian officer or the Italian officer is modeled after the bottle of chianti—which, though, I am not prepared to say without further study of the subject.
But the Austrian officer is the walking sunset effect of creation. For color schemes I know of nothing in Nature to equal him except the Grand Canon of the Colorado. Circus parades are unknown in Austria—they are not missed either; after an Austrian officer a street parade would seem a colorless and commonplace thing. In his uniform he runs to striking contrasts—canary yellow, with light blue facings; silvers and grays; bright greens with scarlet slashings—and so on.
His collar is the very highest of all high collars and the heaviest with embroidery; his cloak is the longest and the widest; his boots the most varnished; his sword-belt the broadest and the shiniest; and the medals on his bosom are the most numerous and the most glittering. Alf Ringling and John Philip Sousa would take one look at him—and then, mutually filled with an envious despair, they would go apart and hold a grand lodge of sorrow together. Also, he constantly wears his spurs and his sword; he wears them even when he is in a cafe in the evening listening to the orchestra, drinking beer and allowing an admiring civilian to pay the check —and that apparently is every evening.
There was one Austrian colonel who came one night into a cafe in Vienna where we were and sat down at the table next to us; and he put our eyes right out and made all the lights dim and flickery. His epaulets were two hairbrushes of augmented size, gold-mounted; his Plimsoll marks were outlined in bullion, and along his garboard strake ran lines of gold braid; but strangest of all to observe was the locality where he wore what appeared to be his service stripes. Instead of being on his sleeves they were at the extreme southern exposure of his coattails; I presume an Austrian officer acquires merit by sitting down.
This particular officer's saber kept jingling, and so did his spurs, and so did his bracelet. I almost forgot the bracelet. It was an ornate affair of gold links fastened on his left wrist with a big gold locket, and it kept slipping down over his hand and rattling against his cuff. The chain bracelet locked on the left wrist is very common among Austrian officers; it adds just the final needed touch. I did not see any of them carrying lorgnettes or shower bouquets, but I think, in summer they wear veils.
One opportunity is afforded the European who is neither a soldier nor a hotel cashier to dress himself up in comic-opera clothes —and that is when he a-hunting goes. An American going hunting puts on his oldest and most serviceable clothes—a European his giddiest, gayest, gladdest regalia. We were so favored by gracious circumstances as to behold several Englishmen suitably attired for the chase, and we noted that the conventional morning costume of an English gentleman expecting to call informally on a pheasant or something during the course of the forenoon consisted, in the main, of a perfect dear of a Norfolk jacket, all over plaits and pockets, with large leather buttons like oak-galls adhering thickly to it, with a belt high up under the arms and a saucy tail sticking out behind; knee-breeches; a high stock collar; shin-high leggings of buff or white, and a special hat—a truly adorable confection by the world's leading he-milliner.
If you dared to wear such an outfit afield in America the very dickeybirds would fall into fits as you passed—the chipmunks would lean out of the trees and just naturally laugh you to death! But in a land where the woodlands are well-kept groves, and the undergrowth, instead of being weedy and briery, is sweet-scented fern and gorse and bracken, I suppose it is all eminently correct.
Thus appareled the Englishman goes to Scotland to shoot the grouse, the gillie, the heather cock, the niblick, the haggis and other Scotch game. Thus appareled he ranges the preserves of his own fat, fair shires in ardent pursuit of the English rabbit, which pretty nearly corresponds to the guinea pig, but is not so ferocious; and the English hare, which is first cousin to our molly cottontail; and the English pheasant—but particularly the pheasant.
There was great excitement while we were in England concerning the pheasants. Either the pheasants were preying on the mangel-wurzels or the mangel-wurzels were preying on the pheasants. At any rate it had something to do with the Land Bill—practically everything that happens in England has something to do with the Land Bill—and Lloyd George was in a free state of perspiration over it; and the papers were full of it and altogether there was a great pother over it.
We saw pheasants by the score. We saw them first from the windows of our railroad carriage—big, beautiful birds nearly as large as barnyard fowls and as tame, feeding in the bare cabbage patches, regardless of the train chugging by not thirty yards away; and later we saw them again at still closer range as we strolled along the haw-and-holly-lined roads of the wonderful southern counties. They would scuttle on ahead of us, weaving in and out of the hedgerows; and finally, when we insisted on it and flung pebbles at them to emphasize our desires, they would get up, with a great drumming of wings and a fine comet-like display of flowing tailfeathers on the part of the cock birds, and go booming away to what passes in Sussex and Kent for dense cover—meaning by that thickets such as you may find in the upper end of Central Park.
They say King George is one of the best pheasant-shots in England. He also collects postage stamps when not engaged in his regular regal duties, such as laying cornerstones for new workhouses and receiving presentation addresses from charity children. I have never shot pheasants; but, having seen them in their free state as above described, and having in my youth collected postage stamps intermittently, I should say, speaking offhand, that of the two pursuits postage-stamp collecting is infinitely the more exciting and dangerous.
Through the closed season the keepers mind the pheasants, protecting them from poachers and feeding them on selected grain; but a day comes in October when the hunters go forth and take their stands at spaced intervals along a cleared aisle flanking the woods; then the beaters dive into the woods from the opposite side, and when the tame and trusting creatures come clustering about their feet expecting provender the beaters scare them up, by waving their umbrellas at them, I think, and the pheasants go rocketing into the air—rocketing is the correct sporting term—go rocketing into the air like a flock of Sunday supplements; and the gallant gunner downs them in great multitudes, always taking due care to avoid mussing his clothes. For after all the main question is not "What did he kill?" but "How does he look?"
At that, I hold no brief for the pheasant—except when served with breadcrumb dressing and currant jelly he is no friend of mine. It ill becomes Americans, with our own record behind us, to chide other people for the senseless murder of wild things; and besides, speaking personally, I have a reasonably open mind on the subject of wild-game shooting. Myself, I shot a wild duck once. He was not flying at the time. He was, as the stockword goes, setting. I had no self-reproaches afterward however. As between that duck and myself I regarded it as an even break—as fair for one as for the other—because at the moment I myself was, as we say, setting too. But if, in the interests of true sportsmanship, they must have those annual massacres I certainly should admire to see what execution a picked half dozen of American quail hunters, used to snap-shooting in the cane jungles and brier patches of Georgia and Arkansas, could accomplish among English pheasants, until such time as their consciences mastered them and they desisted from slaughter!
Be that as it may, pheasant shooting is the last word in the English sporting calendar. It is a sport strictly for the gentry. Except in the capacity of innocent bystanders the lower orders do not share in it. It is much too good for them; besides, they could not maintain the correct wardrobe for it. The classes derive one substantial benefit from the institution however. The sporting instinct of the landed Englishman has led to the enactment of laws under which an ordinary person goes smack to jail if he is caught sequestrating a clandestine pheasant bird; but it does not militate against the landowner's peddling off his game after he has destroyed it. British thrift comes in here. And so in carload lots it is sold to the marketmen. The result is that in the fall of the year pheasants are cheaper than chickens; and any person who can afford poultry on his dinner table can afford pheasants.
The Continental hunter makes an even more spectacular appearance than his British brother. No self-respecting German or French sportsman would think of faring forth after the incarnate brown hare or the ferocious wood pigeon unless he had on a green hat with a feather in it; and a green suit to match the hat; and swung about his neck with a cord a natty fur muff to keep his hands in between shots; and a swivel chair to sit in while waiting for the wild boar to come along and be bowled over.
Being hunted with a swivel chair is what makes the German wild boar wild. On occasion, also, the hunter wears, suspended from his belt, a cute little hanger like a sawed-off saber, with which to cut the throats of his spoil. Then, when it has spoiled some more, they will serve it at a French restaurant.
It was our fortune to be in France on the famous and ever-memorable occasion when the official stag of the French Republic met a tragic and untimely end, under circumstances acutely distressing to all who believe in the divinity bestowed prerogatives of the nobility. The Paris edition of the Herald printed the lamentable tale on its front page and I clipped the account. I offer it here in exact reproduction, including the headline:
HUNTING INCIDENT SAID TO BE DUE TO CONSPIRACY
Further details are given in this morning's Figaro of the incident between Prince Murat and M. Dauchis, the mayor of Saint-Felix, near Clermont, which was briefly reported in yesterday's Herald.
A regular conspiracy was organized by M. Dauchis, it is alleged, in order to secure the stag Prince Murat and Comte de Valon were hunting in the forest of La Neuville-en-Hetz. Already, at the outset of the hunt, M. Dauchis, according to Le Figaro, charged at a huntsman with a little automobile in which he was driving and threatened to fire. Then when the stag ran into the wood, near the Trye River, one of his keepers shot it. In great haste the animal was loaded on another automobile; and before either the prince or Comte de Valon could interfere it was driven away.
While Comte de Valon spurred his horse in pursuit Prince Murat disarmed the man who had shot the stag, for he was leveling his gun at another huntsman; but before the gun was wrenched from his hands he had struck Prince d'Essling, Prince Murat's uncle, across the face with the butt.
Meantime Comte de Valon had overtaken the automobile and, though threatened with revolvers by its occupants, would have recaptured the stag if the men in charge of it had not taken it into the house of M. Dauchis' father.
The only course left for Prince Murat and Comte de Valon was to lodge a complaint with the police for assault and for killing the stag, which M. Dauchis refused to give back.
From this you may see how very much more exciting stag hunting is in France than in America. Comparing the two systems we find but one point of resemblance—namely, the attempted shooting of a huntsman. In the North Woods we do a good deal of that sort of thing: however with us it is not yet customary to charge the prospective victim in a little automobile—that may come in time. Our best bags are made by the stalking or still-hunting method. Our city-raised sportsman slips up on his guide and pots him from a rest.
But consider the rest of the description so graphically set forth by Le Figaro—the intriguing of the mayor; the opposing groups rampaging round, some on horseback and some in automobile runabouts; the intense disappointment of the highborn Prince Murat and his uncle, the Prince d'Essling, and his friend, the Comte de Valon; the implied grief of the stag at being stricken down by other than noble hands; the action of the base-born commoner, who shot the stag, in striking the Prince d'Essling across his pained and aristocratic face with the butt—exact type of butt and name of owner not being given. Only in its failure to clear up this important point, and in omitting to give descriptions of the costumes worn by the two princes and the comte, is Le Figaro's story lacking. They must have been wearing the very latest creations too.
This last brings us back again to the subject of clothes and serves to remind me that, contrary to a belief prevalent on this side of the water, good clothes cost as much abroad as they cost here. In England a man may buy gloves and certain substantial articles of haberdashery in silk and linen and wool at a much lower figure than in America; and in Italy he will find crocheted handbags and bead necklaces are to be had cheaper than at home—provided, of course, he cares for such things as crocheted handbags and bead necklaces. Handmade laces and embroideries and sundry other feminine fripperies, so women tell me, are moderately priced on the Continent, if so be the tourist-purchaser steers clear of the more fashionable shops and chases the elusive bargain down a back street; but, quality considered, other things cost as much in Europe as they cost here—and frequently they cost more. If you buy at the shopkeeper's first price he has a secret contempt for you; if you haggle him down to a reasonably fair valuation—say about twice the amount a native would pay for the same thing—he has a half-concealed contempt for you; if you refuse to trade at any price he has an open contempt for you; and in any event he dislikes you because you are an American. So there you are. No matter how the transaction turns out you have his contempt; it is the only thing he parts with at cost.
It is true that you may buy a suit of clothes for ten dollars in London; so also may you buy a suit of clothes for ten dollars in any American city, but the reasonably affluent American doesn't buy ten-dollar suits at home. He saves himself up to indulge in that form of idiocy abroad. In Paris or Rome you may get a five-course dinner with wine for forty cents; so you may in certain quarters of New York; but in either place the man who can afford to pay more for his dinner will find it to his ultimate well-being to do so. Simply because a boarding house in France or Italy is known as a pension doesn't keep it from being a boarding house —and a pretty average bad one, as I have been informed by misguided Americans who tried living at a pension, and afterwards put in a good deal of their spare time regretting it.
Altogether, looking back on my own experiences, I can at this time of writing think of but two common commodities which, when grade is taken into the equation, are found to be radically cheaper in Europe than in America—these two things being taxicabs and counts. For their cleanliness and smartness of aspect, and their reasonableness of meter-fare, taxicabs all over Europe are a constant joy to the traveling American. And, though in the United States counts are so costly that only the marriageable daughters of the very wealthy may afford to buy them—and even then, as the count calendars attest, have the utmost difficulty in keeping them after they are bought—in Continental Europe anywhere one may for a moderate price hire a true-born count to do almost any small job, from guiding one through an art gallery to waiting on one at the table. Counts make indifferent guides, but are middling fair waiters.
Outside of the counts and the taxicabs, and the food in Germany, I found in all Europe just one real overpowering bargain—and that was in Naples, where, as a general thing, bargains are not what they seem. For the exceedingly moderate outlay of one lira—Italian —or twenty cents—American—I secured this combination, to wit, as follows:
In the background old Vesuvius, like a wicked, fallen angel, wearing his plumy, fumy halo of sulphurous hell-smoke; in the middle distance the Bay of Naples, each larcenous wave-crest in it triple-plated with silvern glory pilfered from a splendid moon; on the left the riding lights of a visiting squadron of American warships; on the right the myriad slanted sails of the coral-fishers' boats, beating out toward Capri, with the curlew-calls of the fishermen floating back in shrill snatches to meet a jangle of bell and bugle from the fleet; in the immediate foreground a competent and accomplished family troupe of six Neapolitan troubadours —men, women and children—some of them playing guitars and all six of them, with fine mellow voices and tremendous dramatic effect, singing—the words being Italian but the air good American—John Brown's Body Lies a-Moldering in the Grave!
I defy you to get more than that for twenty cents anywhere in the world!
In our consideration of this topic we come first to the night life of the English. They have none.
Passing along to the next subject under the same heading, which is the night life of Paris, we find here so much night life, of such a delightfully transparent and counterfeit character; so much made-to-measure deviltry; so many members of the Madcaps' Union engaged on piece-work; so much delicious, hoydenish derring-do, all carefully stage-managed and expertly timed for the benefit of North and South American spenders, to the end that the deliriousness shall abate automatically in exact proportion as the spenders quit spending—in short, so much of what is typically Parisian that, really Paris, on its merits, is entitled to a couple of chapters of its own.
All of which naturally brings us to the two remaining great cities of Mid-Europe—Berlin and Vienna—and leads us to the inevitable conclusion that the Europeans, in common with all other peoples on the earth, only succeed—when they try to be desperately wicked —in being desperately dull; whereas when they seek their pleasures in a natural manner they present racial slants and angles that are very interesting to observe and very pleasant to have a hand in.
Take the Germans now: No less astute a world traveler than Samuel G. Blythe is sponsor for the assertion that the Berliners follow the night-life route because the Kaiser found his capital did not attract the tourist types to the extent he had hoped, and so decreed that his faithful and devoted subjects, leaving their cozy hearths and inglenooks, should go forth at the hour when graveyards yawn —and who could blame them?—to spend the dragging time until dawn in being merry and bright. So saying His Majesty went to bed, leaving them to work while he slept.
After viewing the situation at first hand the present writer is of the opinion that Mr. Blythe was quite right in his statements. Certainly nothing is more soothing to the eye of the onlooker, nothing more restful to his soul, than to behold a group of Germans enjoying themselves in a normal manner. And absolutely nothing is quite so ghastly sad as the sight of those same well-flushed, well-fleshed Germans cavorting about between the hours of two and four-thirty A.M., trying, with all the pachydermic ponderosity of Barnum's Elephant Quadrille, to be professionally gay and cutuppish. The Prussians must love their Kaiser dearly. We sit up with our friends when they are dead; they stay up for him until they are ready to die themselves.
As is well known Berlin abounds in pleasure palaces, so called. Enormous places these are, where under one widespreading roof are three or four separate restaurants of augmented size, not to mention winecellars and beer-caves below-stairs, and a dancehall or so and a Turkish bath, and a bar, and a skating rink, and a concert hall —and any number of private dining rooms. The German mind invariably associates size with enjoyment.
To these establishments, after his regular dinner, the Berliner repairs with his family, his friend or his guest. There is one especially popular resort, a combination of restaurant and vaudeville theater, at which one eats an excellent dinner excellently served, and between courses witnesses the turns of a first-rate variety bill, always with the inevitable team of American coon shouters, either in fast colors or of the burnt-cork variety, sandwiched into the program somewhere.
In the Friedrichstrasse there is another place, called the Admiralspalast, which is even more attractive. Here, inclosing a big, oval-shaped ice arena, balcony after balcony rises circling to the roof. On one of these balconies you sit, and while you dine and after you have dined you look down on a most marvelous series of skating stunts. In rapid and bewildering succession there are ballets on skates, solo skating numbers, skating carnivals and skating races. Finally scenery is slid in on runners and the whole company, in costumes grotesque and beautiful, go through a burlesque that keeps you laughing when you are not applauding, and admiring when you are doing neither; while alternating lightwaves from overhead electric devices flood the picture with shifting, shimmering tides of color. It is like seeing a Christmas pantomime under an aurora borealis. In America we could not do these things —at least we never have done them. Either the performance would be poor or the provender would be highly expensive, or both. But here the show is wonderful, and the victuals are good and not extravagantly priced, and everybody has a bully time.
At eleven-thirty or thereabout the show at the ice palace is over —concluding with a push-ball match between teams of husky maidens who were apparently born on skates and raised on skates, and would not feel natural unless they were curveting about on skates. Their skates seem as much a part of them as tails to mermaids. It is bedtime now for sane folks, but at this moment a certain madness which does not at all fit in with the true German temperament descends on the crowd. Some go upstairs to another part of the building, where there is a dancehall called the Admiralskasino; but, to the truly swagger, one should hasten to the Palais du Danse on the second floor of the big Metropolpalast in the Behrenstrasse. This place opens promptly at midnight and closes promptly at two o'clock in the morning.
Inasmuch as the Palais du Danse is an institution borrowed outright from the French they have adopted a typically French custom here. As the visitor enters—if he be a stranger—a flunky in gorgeous livery intercepts him and demands an entrance fee amounting to about a dollar and a quarter in our money, as I recall. This tariff the American or Englishman pays, but the practiced Berliner merely suggests to the doorkeeper the expediency of his taking a long running start and jumping off into space, and stalks defiantly in without forking over a single pfennig to any person whatsoever.
The Palais du Danse is incomparably the most beautiful ballroom in the world—so people who have been all over the world agree —and it is spotlessly clean and free from brackish smells, which is more than can be said of any French establishment of similar character I have seen. At the Palais du Danse the patron sits at a table—a table with something on it besides a cloth being an essential adjunct to complete enjoyment of an evening of German revelry; and as he sits and drinks he listens to the playing of a splendid band and looks on at the dancing. Nothing is drunk except wine—and by wine I mainly mean champagne of the most sweetish and sickish brand obtainable. Elsewhere, for one-twentieth the cost, the German could have the best and purest beer that is made; but he is out now for the big night. Accordingly he saturates his tissues with the sugary bubble-water of France. He does not join in the dancing himself. The men dancers are nearly all paid dancers, I think, and the beautifully clad women who dance are either professionals, too, or else belong to a profession that is older even than dancing is. They all dance with a profound German gravity and precision. Here is music to set a wooden leg a-jigging; but these couples circle and glide and dip with an incomprehensible decorum and slowness.
When we were there, they were dancing the tango or one of its manifold variations. All Europe, like all America, was, for the moment, tango mad. While we were in Paris, M. Jean Richepin lectured before the Forty Immortals of the Five Academies assembled in solemn conclave at the Institute of France. They are called the Forty Immortals because nobody can remember the names of more than five of them. He took for his subject the tango—his motto, in short, being one borrowed from the conductors in the New York subway—"Mind your step!"
While he spoke, which was for an hour or more, the bebadged and beribboned bosoms of his illustrious compatriots heaved with emotion; their faces—or such parts of their faces as were visible above the whiskerline—flushed with enthusiasm, and most vociferously they applauded his masterly phrasing and his tracing-out of the evolution of the tango, all the way from its Genesis, as it were, to its Revelation. I judge the revelation particularly appealed to them—that part of it appeals to so many.
After that the tango seemed literally to trail us. We could not escape it. While we were in Berlin the emperor saw fit officially to forbid the dancing of the tango by officers of his navy and army. We reached England just after the vogue for tango teas started.
Naturally we went to one of these affairs. It took place at a theater. Such is the English way of interpreting the poetry of motion—to hire some one else to do it for you, and—in order to get the worth of your money—sit and swizzle tea while the paid performer is doing it. At the tango tea we patronized the tea was up to standard, but the dancing of the box-ankled professionals was a disappointment. Beforehand I had been told that the scene on the stage would be a veritable picture. And so it was—Rosa Bonheur's Horse Fair.
As a matter of fact the best dancer I saw in Europe was a performing trick pony in a winter circus in Berlin. I also remember with distinctness of detail a chorusman who took part in a new Lehar opera, there in Berlin. I do not remember him for his dancing, because he was no clumsier of foot than his compatriots in the chorus rank and file; or for his singing, since I could not pick his voice out from the combined voices of the others. I remember him because be wore spectacles—not a monocle nor yet a pair of nose-glasses, but heavy-rimmed, double-lensed German spectacles with gold bows extending up behind his ears like the roots of an old-fashioned wisdom tooth.
Come to think about it, I know of no reason why a chorusman should not wear spectacles if he needs them in his business or if he thinks they will add to his native beauty; but the spectacle of that bolster-built youth, dressed now as a Spanish cavalier and now as a Venetian gondolier, prancing about, with his spectacles goggling owlishly out at the audience, and once in a while, when a gleam from the footlights caught on them, turning to two red-hot disks set in the middle of his face, was a thing that is going to linger in my memory when a lot of more important matters are entirely forgotten.
Not even in Paris did the tango experts compare with the tango experts one sees in America. At this juncture I pause a moment, giving opportunity for some carping critic to rise and call my attention to the fact that perhaps the most distinguished of the early school of turkey-trotters bears a French name and came to us from Paris. To which I reply that so he does and so he did; but I add then the counter-argument that he came to us by way of Paris, at the conclusion of a round trip that started in the old Fourth Ward of the Borough of Manhattan, city of Greater New York; for he was born and bred on the East Side—and, moreover, was born bearing the name of a race of kings famous in the south of Ireland and along the Bowery. And he learned his art—not only the rudiments of it but the final finished polish of it—in the dancehalls of Third Avenue, where the best slow-time dancers on earth come from. It was after he had acquired a French accent and had Gallicized his name, thereby causing a general turning-over of old settlers in the graveyards of the County Clare, that he returned to us, a conspicuous figure in the world of art and fashion, and was able to get twenty-five dollars an hour for teaching the sons and daughters of our richest families to trip the light tanfastic go. At the same time, be it understood, I am not here to muckrake the past of one so prominent and affluent in the most honored and lucrative of modern professions; but facts are facts, and these particular facts are quoted here to bind and buttress my claim that the best dancers are the American dancers.
After this digression let us hurry right back to that loyal Berliner whom we left seated in the Palais du Danse on the Behrenstrasse, waiting for the hour of two in the morning to come. The hour of two in the morning does come; the lights die down; the dancers pick up their heavy feet—it takes an effort to pick up those Continental feet—and quit the waxen floor; the Oberkellner comes round with his gold chain of office dangling on his breast and collects for the wine, and our German friend, politely inhaling his yawns, gets up and goes elsewhere to finish his good time. And, goldarn it, how he does dread it! Yet he goes, faithful soul that he is.
He goes, let us say, to the Pavilion Mascotte—no dancing, but plenty of drinking and music and food—which opens at two and stays open until four, when it shuts up shop in order that another place in the nature of a cabaret may open. And so, between five and six o'clock in the morning of the new day, when the lady garbagemen and the gentlemen chambermaids of the German capital are abroad on their several duties, he journeys homeward, and so, as Mr. Pepys says, to bed, with nothing disagreeable to look forward to except repeating the same dose all over again the coming night. This sort of thing would kill anybody except a Prussian—for, mark you, between intervals of drinking he has been eating all night; but then a Prussian has no digestion. He merely has gross tonnage in the place where his digestive apparatus ought to be.
The time to see a German enjoying himself is when he is following his own bent and not obeying the imperial edict of his gracious sovereign. I had a most excellent opportunity of observing him while engaged in his own private pursuits of pleasure when by chance one evening, in the course of a solitary prowl, I bumped into a sort of Berlinesque version of Coney Island, with the island part missing. It was not out in the suburbs where one would naturally expect to find such a resort. It was in the very middle of the city, just round the corner from the cafe district, not more than half a mile, as the Blutwurst flies, from Unter den Linden. Even at this distance and after a considerable lapse of time I can still appreciate that place, though I cannot pronounce it; for it had a name consisting of one of those long German compound words that run all the way round a fellow's face and lap over at the back, like a clergyman's collar, and it had also a subname that no living person could hope to utter unless he had a thorough German education and throat trouble. You meet such nouns frequently in Germany. They are not meant to be spoken; you gargle them. To speak the full name of this park would require two able-bodied persons—one to start it off and carry it along until his larynx gave out, and the other to take it up at that point and finish it.
But for all the nine-jointed impressiveness of its title this park was a live, brisk little park full of sideshow tents sheltering mildly amusing, faked-up attractions, with painted banners flapping in the air and barkers spieling before the entrances and all the ballyhoos going at full blast—altogether a creditable imitation of a street fair as witnessed in any American town that has a good live Elks' Lodge in it.
Plainly the place was popular. Germans of all conditions and all ages and all sizes—but mainly the broader lasts—were winding about in thick streams in the narrow, crooked alleys formed by the various tents. They packed themselves in front of each booth where a free exhibition was going on, and when the free part was over and the regular performance began they struggled good-naturedly to pay the admission fee and enter in at the door.
And, for a price, there were freaks to be seen who properly belonged on our side of the water, it seemed to me. I had always supposed them to be exclusively domestic articles until I encountered them here. There was a regular Bosco—a genuine Herr He Alive Them Eats—sitting in his canvas den entirely surrounded by a choice and tasty selection of eating snakes. The orthodox tattooed man was there, too, first standing up to display the text and accompanying illustrations on his front cover, and then turning round so the crowd might read what he said on the other side. And there was many another familiar freak introduced to our fathers by Old Dan Rice and to us, their children, through the good offices of Daniel's long and noble line of successors.
A seasonable Sunday is a fine time; and the big Zoological Garden, which is a favorite place for studying the Berlin populace at the diversions they prefer when left to their own devices. At one table will be a cluster of students, with their queer little pill-box caps of all colors, their close-cropped heads and well-shaved necks, and their saber-scarred faces. At the next table half a dozen spectacled, long-coated men, who look as though they might be university professors, are confabbing earnestly. And at the next table and the next and the next—and so on, until the aggregate runs into big figures—are family groups—grandsires, fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles and children, on down to the babies in arms. By the uncountable thousands they spend the afternoon here, munching sausages and sipping lager, and enjoying the excellent music that is invariably provided. At each plate there is a beer mug, for everybody is forever drinking and nobody is ever drunk. You see a lot of this sort of thing, not only in the parks and gardens so numerous in and near any German city but anywhere on the Continent. Seeing it helps an American to understand a main difference between the American Sabbath and the European Sunday. We keep it and they spend it.
I am given to understand that Vienna night life is the most alluring, the most abandoned, the most wicked and the wildest of all night life. Probably this is so—certainly it is the most cloistered and the most inaccessible. The Viennese does not deliberately exploit his night life to prove to all the world that he is a gay dog and will not go home until morning though it kill him—as the German does. Neither does he maintain it for the sake of the coin to be extracted from the pockets of the tourist, as do the Parisians. With him his night life is a thing he has created and which he supports for his own enjoyment.
And so it goes on—not out in the open; not press-agented; not advertised; but behind closed doors. He does not care for the stranger's presence, nor does he suffer it either—unless the stranger is properly vouched for. The best theaters in Vienna are small, exclusive affairs, privately supported, and with seating capacity for a few chosen patrons. Once he has quit the public cafe with its fine music and its bad waiters the uninitiated traveler has a pretty lonesome time of it in Vienna. Until all hours he may roam the principal streets seeking that fillip of wickedness which will give zest to life and provide him with something to brag about when he gets back among the home folks again. He does not find it. Charades would provide a much more exciting means of spending the evening; and, in comparison with the sights he witnesses, anagrams and acrostics are positively thrilling.
He is tantalized by the knowledge that all about him there are big doings, but, so far as he is concerned, he might just as well be attending a Sunday-school cantata. Unless he be suitably introduced he will have never a chance to shake a foot with anybody or buy a drink for somebody in the inner circles of Viennese night life. He is emphatically on the outside, denied even the poor satisfaction of looking in. At that I have a suspicion, born of casual observation among other races, that the Viennese really has a better time when he is not trying than when he is trying.
No taste of the night life of Paris is regarded as complete without a visit to an Apache resort at the fag-end of it. For orderly and law-abiding people the disorderly and lawbreaking people always have an immense fascination anyhow. The average person, though inclined to blink at whatever prevalence of the criminal classes may exist in his own community, desires above all things to know at firsthand about the criminals of other communities. In these matters charity begins at home.
Every New Yorker who journeys to the West wants to see a few roadagents; conversely the Westerner sojourning in New York pesters his New York friends to lead him to the haunts of the gangsters. It makes no difference that in a Western town the prize hold-up man is more apt than not to be a real-estate dealer; that in New York the average run of citizens know no more of the gangs than they know of the Metropolitan Museum of Art—which is to say, nothing at all. Human nature comes to the surface just the same.
In Paris they order this thing differently; they exhibit the same spirit of enterprise that in a lesser degree characterized certain promoters of rubberneck tours who some years ago fitted up make-believe opium dens in New York's Chinatown for the awed delectation of out-of-town spectators. Knowing from experience that every other American who lands in Paris will crave to observe the Apache while the Apache is in the act of Apaching round, the canny Parisians have provided a line of up-to-date Apache dens within easy walking distance of Montmartre; and thither the guides lead the round-eyed tourist and there introduce him to well-drilled, carefully made-up Apaches and Apachesses engaged in their customary sports and pastimes for as long as he is willing to pay out money for the privilege.
Being forewarned of this I naturally desired to see the genuine article. I took steps to achieve that end. Suitably chaperoned by a trio of transplanted Americans who knew a good bit about the Paris underworld I rode over miles of bumpy cobblestones until, along about four o'clock in the morning, our taxicab turned into a dim back street opening off one of the big public markets and drew up in front of a grimy establishment rejoicing in the happy and we1l-chosen name of the Cave of the Innocents.
Alighting we passed through a small boozing ken, where a frowzy woman presided over a bar, serving drinks to smocked marketmen, and at the rear descended a steep flight of stone steps. At the foot of the stairs we came on two gendarmes who sat side by side on a wooden bench, having apparently nothing else to do except to caress their goatees and finger their swords. Whether the gendarmes were stationed here to keep the Apaches from preying on the marketmen or the marketmen from preying on the Apaches I know not; but having subsequently purchased some fresh fruit in that selfsame market I should say now that if anybody about the premises needed police protection it was the Apaches. My money would be on the marketmen every time.
Beyond the couchant gendarmes we traversed a low, winding passage cut out of stone and so came at length to what seemingly had originally been a winevault, hollowed out far down beneath the foundations of the building. The ceiling was so low that a tall man must stoop to avoid knocking his head off. The place was full of smells that had crawled in a couple of hundred years before and had died without benefit of clergy, and had remained there ever since. For its chief item of furniture the cavern had a wicked old piano, with its lid missing, so that its yellowed teeth showed in a perpetual snarl. I judged some of its most important vital organs were missing too—after I heard it played. On the walls were inscribed such words as naughty little boys write on schoolhouse fences in this country, and more examples of this pleasing brand of literature were carved on the whittled oak benches and the rickety wooden stools. So much for the physical furbishings.
By rights—by all the hallowed rules and precedents of the American vaudeville stage!—the denizens of this cozy retreat in the bowels of the earth should have been wearing high-waisted baggy velvet trousers and drinking absinthe out of large flagons, and stabbing one another between the shoulder blades, and ever and anon, in the mystic mazes of the dance, playing crack-the-whip with the necks and heels of their adoring lady friends; but such was not found to be the case. In all these essential and traditional regards the assembled Innocents were as poignantly disappointing as the costers of London had proved themselves.
According to all the printed information on the subject the London coster wears clothes covered up with pearl buttons and spends his time swapping ready repartee with his Donah or his Dinah. The costers I saw were barren of pearl buttons and silent of speech; and almost invariably they had left their Donahs at home. Similarly these gentlemen habitues of the Cave of the Innocents wore few or no velvet pants, and guzzled little or none of the absinthe. Their favorite tipple appeared to be beer; and their female companions snuggled closely beside them.
We stayed among them fully twenty minutes, but not a single person was stabbed while we were there. It must have been an off-night for stabbings.
Still, I judged them to have been genuine exhibits because here, for the first, last and only time in Paris, I found a shop where a stranger ready to spend a little money was not welcomed with vociferous enthusiasm. The paired-off cave-dwellers merely scowled on us as we scrouged past them to a vacant bench in a far corner. The waiter, though, bowed before us—a shockheaded personage in the ruins of a dress suit—at the same time saying words which I took to be complimentary until one of my friends explained that he had called us something that might be freely translated as a certain kind of female lobster. Circumscribed by our own inflexible and unyielding language we in America must content ourselves with calling a man a plain lobster; but the limber-tongued Gaul goes further than that—he calls you a female lobster, which seems somehow or other to make it more binding.
However, I do not really think the waiter meant to be deliberately offensive; for presently, having first served us with beer which for obvious reasons we did not drink, he stationed himself alongside the infirm piano and rendered a little ballad to the effect that all men were spiders and all women were snakes, and all the World was a green poison; so, right off, I knew what his trouble was, for I had seen many persons just as morbidly affected as himself down in the malaria belt of the United States, where everybody has liver for breakfast every morning. The waiter was bilious—that was what ailed him.
For the sake of the conventions I tried to feel apprehensive of grave peril. It was no use. I felt safe—not exactly comfortable, but perfectly safe. I could not even muster up a spasm of the spine when a member of our party leaned over and whispered in my ear that any one of these gentry roundabout us would cheerfully cut a man's throat for twenty-five cents. I was surprised, though, at the moderation of the cost; this was the only cheap thing I had struck in Paris. It was cheaper even than the same job is supposed to be in the district round Chatham Square, on the East Side of New York, where the credulous stranger so frequently is told that he can have a plain murder done for five dollars—or a fancy murder, with trimmings, for ten; rate card covering other jobs on application. In America, however, it has been my misfortune that I did not have the right amount handy; and here in Paris I was handicapped by my inability to make change correctly. By now I would not have trusted anyone in Paris to make change for me—not even an Apache. I was sorry for this, for at a quarter a head I should have been very glad to engage a troupe of Apaches to kill me about two dollars' worth of cabdrivers and waiters. For one of the waiters at our hotel I would have been willing to pay as much as fifty cents, provided they killed him very slowly. Because of the reasons named, however, I had to come away without making any deal, and I have always regretted it.
At the outset of the chapter immediately preceding this one I said the English had no night life. This was a slight but a pardonable misstatement of the actual facts. The Englishman has not so much night life as the Parisian, the Berliner, the Viennese or the Budapest; but he has more night life in his town of London than the Roman has in his town of Rome. In Rome night life for the foreigner consists of going indoors at eventide and until bedtime figuring up how much money he has been skinned out of during the course of the day just done—and for the native in going indoors and counting up how much money he has skinned the foreigner out of during the day aforesaid. London has its night life, but it ends early—in the very shank of the evening, so to speak.
This is due in a measure to the operation of the early-closing law, which, however, does not apply if you are a bona-fide traveler stopping at your own inn. There the ancient tavern law protects you. You may sit at ease and, if so minded, may drink and eat until daylight doth appear or doth not appear, as is generally the case in the foggy season. There is another law, of newer origin, to prohibit the taking of children under a certain age into a public house. On the passage of this act there at once sprang up a congenial and lucrative employment for those horrible old-women drunkards who are so distressingly numerous in the poorer quarters of the town. Regardless of the weather one of these bedrabbled creatures stations herself just outside the door of a pub. Along comes a mother with a thirst and a child. Surrendering her offspring to the temporary care of the hag the mother goes within and has her refreshment at the bar. When, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand, she comes forth to reclaim the youngster she gives the other woman a ha'penny for her trouble, and eventually the other woman harvests enough ha'penny bits to buy a dram of gin for herself. On a rainy day I have seen a draggled, Sairey-Gamp-looking female caring for as many as four damp infants under the drippy portico of an East End groggery.
It is to the cafes that the early-closing law chiefly applies. The cafes are due to close for business within half an hour after midnight. When the time for shutting up draws nigh the managers do not put their lingering patrons out physically. The individual's body is a sacred thing, personal liberty being most dear to an Englishman. It will be made most dear to you too—in the law courts—if you infringe on it by violence or otherwise. No; they have a gentler system than that, one that is free from noise, excitemnent and all mussy work. Along toward twelve-thirty o'clock the waiters begin going about, turning out the lights. The average London restaurant is none too brightly illuminated to start with, being a dim and dingy ill-kept place compared with the glary, shiny lobster palace that we know; so instantly you are made aware of a thickening of the prevalent gloom. The waiters start in at the far end of the room and turn out a few lights. Drawing nearer and nearer to you they turn out more lights; and finally, by way of strengthening the hint, they turn out the lights immediately above your head, which leaves you in the stilly dark with no means of seeing your food even; unless you have taken the precaution to spread phosphorus on your sandwich instead of mustard—which, however, is seldom done. A better method is to order a portion of one of the more luminous varieties of imported cheese.
The best thing of all, however, is to take your hat and stick and go away from there. And then, unless you belong to a regular club or carry a card of admission to one of the chartered all-night clubs that have sprung up so abundantly in London, and which are uniformly stuffy, stupid places where the members take their roistering seriously—or as a last resort, unless you care to sit for a tiresome hour or two in the grill of your hotel—you might as well be toddling away to bed; that is to say, you might as well go to bed unless you find the scenes in the street as worth while as I found them.
At this hour London's droning voice has abated to a deep, hoarse snore; London has become a great, broody giant taking rest that is troubled by snatches of wakefulness; London's grimy, lined face shows new wrinkles of shadow; and new and unexpected clumping of colors in monotone and halftone appear. From the massed-up bulk of things small detached bits stand vividly out: a flower girl whose flowers and whose girlhood are alike in the sere and yellow leaf; a soldier swaggering by, his red coat lighting up the grayish mass about him like a livecoal in an ashheap; a policeman escorting a drunk to quarters for the night—not, mind you, escorting him in a clanging, rushing patrol wagon, which would serve to attract public attention to the distressing state of the overcome one, but conveying him quietly, unostentatiously, surreptitiously almost, in a small-wheeled vehicle partaking somewhat of the nature of a baby carriage and somewhat of the nature of a pushcart.
The policeman shoves this along the road jailward and the drunk lies at rest in it, stretched out full length, with a neat rubber bedspread drawn up over his prostrate form to screen him from drafts and save his face from the gaze of the vulgar. Drunkards are treated with the tenderest consideration in London; for, as you know, Britons never will be slaves—though some of them in the presence of a title give such imitations of being slaves as might fool even so experienced a judge as the late Simon Legree; and —as perchance you may also have heard—an Englishman's souse is his castle. So in due state they ride him and his turreted souse to the station house in a perambulator.
From midnight to daylight the taxicabs by the countless swarm will be charging about in every direction—charging, moreover, at the rate of eight pence a mile. Think that over, ye taxitaxed wretches of New York, and rend your garments, with lamentations loud! There is this also to be said of the London taxi service—and to an American it is one of the abiding marvels of the place—that, no matter where you go, no matter how late the hour or how outlying and obscure the district, there is always a trim taxicab just round the next corner waiting to come instantly at your whistle, and with it a beggar with a bleak, hopeless face, to open the cab door for you and stand, hat in hand, for the penny you toss him.
In the main centers, such as Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus and Charing Cross, and along the Embankment, the Strand and Pall Mall, they are as thick as fleas on the Missouri houn' dawg famous in song and story—the taxis, I mean, though the beggars are reasonably thick also—and they hop like fleas, bearing you swiftly and surely and cheaply on your way. The meters are honest, openfaced meters; and the drivers ask no more than their legal fares and are satisfied with tips within reason. Here in America we have the kindred arts of taxidermy and taxicabbery; one of these is the art of skinning animals and the other is the art of skinning people. The ruthless taxirobber of New York would not last half an hour in London; for him the jail doors would yawn.
Oldtime Londoners deplored the coming of the taxicab and the motorbus, for their coming meant the entire extinction of the driver of the horse-drawn bus, who was an institution, and the practical extinction of the hansom cabby, who was a type and very frequently a humorist too. But an American finds no fault with the present arrangement; he is amply satisfied with it.
Personally I can think of no more exciting phase of the night life of the two greatest cities of Europe than the stunt of dodging taxicabs. In London the peril that lurks for you at every turning is not the result of carelessness on the part of the drivers; it is due to the rules of the road. Afoot, an Englishman meeting you on the sidewalk turns, as we do, to the right hand; but mounted he turns to the left. The foot passenger's prerogative of turning to the right was one of the priceless heritages wrested from King John by the barons at Runnymede; but when William the Conqueror rode into the Battle of Hastings he rode a left-handed horse—and so, very naturally and very properly, everything on hoof or wheel in England has consistently turned to the left ever since. I took some pains to look up the original precedents for these facts and to establish them historically.
The system suits the English mind, but it is highly confusing to an American who gets into the swirl of traffic at a crossing—and every London crossing is a swirl of traffic most of the time—and looks left when he should look right, and looks right when he should be looking left until the very best he can expect, if he survive at all, is cross-eyes and nervous prostration.
I lost count of the number of close calls from utter and mussy destruction I had while in London. Sometimes a policeman took pity on me and saved me, and again, by quick and frenzied leaping, I saved myself; but then the London cabmen were poor marksmen at best. In front of the Savoy one night the same cabman in rapid succession had two beautiful shots at me and each time missed the bull's-eye by a disqualifying margin of inches. A New York chauffeur who had failed to splatter me all over the vicinage at the first chance would have been ashamed to go home afterward and look his innocent little ones in the face.
Even now I cannot decide in my own mind which is the more fearsome and perilous thing—to be afoot in Paris at the mercy of all the maniacs who drive French motor cars or to be in one of the motor cars at the mercy of one of the maniacs. Motoring in Paris is the most dangerous sport known—just as dueling is the safest. There are some arguments to be advanced in favor of dueling. It provides copy for the papers and harmless excitement for the participants —and it certainly gives them a chance to get a little fresh air occasionally, but with motoring it is different. In Paris there are no rules of the road except just these two—the pedestrian who gets run over is liable to prosecution, and all motor cars must travel at top speed.
If I live to be a million I shall never get over shuddering as I think back to a taxicab ride I had in the rush hour one afternoon over a route that extended from away down near the site of the Bastille to a hotel away up near the Place Vendome. The driver was a congenital madman, the same as all Parisian taxicab drivers are; and in addition he was on this occasion acquiring special merit by being quite drunk. This last, however, was a detail that did not dawn on my perceptions until too late to cancel the contract. Once he had got me safely fastened inside his rickety, creaky devil-wagon he pulled all the stops all the way out and went tearing up the crowded boulevard like a comet with a can tied to its tail.
I hammered on the glass and begged him to slow down—that is, I hammered on the glass and tried to beg him to slow down. For just such emergencies I had previously stocked up with two French words—"Doucement!" and "Vite!" I knew that one of those words meant speed and the other meant less speed, but in the turmoil of the moment I may have confused them slightly. Anyhow, to be on the safe side, I yelled "Vite!" a while and then "Doucement" a while; and then "Doucement" and "Vite!" alternately, and mixed in a few short, simple Anglo-Saxon cusswords and prayers for dressing. But nothing I said seemed to have the least effect on that demoniac scoundrel. Without turning his head he merely shouted back something unintelligible and threw on more juice.
On and on we tore, slicing against the sidewalk,curving and jibbing, clattering and careening—now going on two wheels and now on four —while the lunatic shrieked curses of disappointment at the pedestrians who scuttled away to safety from our charging onslaughts; and I held both hands over my mouth to keep my heart from jumping out into my lap.
I saw, with instantaneous but photographic distinctness, a lady, with a dog tucked under her arm, who hesitated a moment in our very path. She was one of the largest ladies I ever saw and the dog under her arm was certainly the smallest dog I ever saw. You might say the lady was practically out of dog. I thought we had her and probably her dog too; but she fell back and was saved by a matter of half an inch or so. I think, though, we got some of the buttons off her shirtwaist and the back trimming of her hat.
Then there was a rending, tearing crash as we took a fender off a machine just emerging from a cross street, but my lunatic never checked up at all. He just flung a curling ribbon of profanity over his shoulder at the other driver and bounded onward like a bat out of the Bad Place. That was the hour when my hair began to turn perceptibly grayer. And yet, when by a succession of miracles we had landed intact at my destination, the fiend seemed to think he had done a praiseworthy and creditable thing. I only wish he had been able to understand the things I called him—that is all I wish!
It is by a succession of miracles that the members of his maniacal craft usually do dodge death and destruction. The providence that watches over the mentally deficient has them in its care, I guess; and the same beneficent influence frequently avails to save those who ride behind them and, to a lesser extent, those who walk ahead. Once in a while a Paris cabman does have a lucky stroke and garner in a foot traveler. In an instant a vast and surging crowd convenes. In another instant the road is impassably blocked. Up rushes a gendarme and worms his way through the press to the center. He has a notebook in his hand. In this book he enters the gloating cabman's name, his age, his address, and his wife's maiden name, if any; and gets his views on the Dreyfus case; and finds out what he thinks about the separation of church and state; and tells him that if he keeps on the way he is headed he will be getting the cross of the Legion of Honor pretty soon. They shake hands and embrace, and the cabman cuts another notch in his mudguard, and gets back on the seat and drives on. Then if, by any chance, the victim of the accident still breathes, the gendarme arrests him for interfering with the traffic. It is a lovely system and sweetly typical.
Under the general classification of thrilling moments in the night life of Europe I should like to list a carriage trip through the outskirts of Naples after dark. In the first place the carriage driver is an Italian driver—which is a shorter way of saying he is the worst driver living. His idea of getting service out of a horse is, first to snatch him to a standstill by yanking on the bit and then to force the poor brute into a gallop by lashing at him with a whip having a particularly loud and vixenish cracker on it; and at every occasion to whoop at the top of his voice. In the second place the street is as narrow as a narrow alley, feebly lighted, and has no sidewalks. And the rutty paving stones which stretch from housefront to housefront are crawling with people and goats and dogs and children. Finally, to add zest to the affair,there are lots of loose cows mooning about—for at this hour the cowherd brings his stock to the doors of his patrons. In an Italian city the people get their milk from a cow, instead of from a milkman as with us. The milk is delivered on the hoof, so to speak.
The grown-ups refuse to make way for you to pass and the swarming young ones repay you for not killing them by pelting pebbles and less pleasant things into your face. Beggars in all degrees of filth and deformity and repulsiveness run alongside the carriage in imminent danger from the wheels, begging for alms. If you give them something they curse you for not giving them more, and if you give them nothing they spit at you for a base dog of a heretic.
But then, what could you naturally expect from a population that thinks a fried cuttlefish is edible and a beefsteak is not?
As you walk along the Rue de la Paix [Footnote: The X being one of the few silent things in France.] and pay and pay, and keep on paying, your eye is constantly engaged by two inscriptions that occur and recur with the utmost frequency. One of these appears in nearly every shopwindow and over nearly every shopdoor. It says:
English Spoken Here.
This, I may tell you, is one of the few absolutely truthful and dependable statements encountered by the tourist in the French capital. Invariably English is spoken here. It is spoken here during all the hours of the day and until far Into the dusk of the evening; spoken loudly, clearly, distinctly, hopefully, hopelessly, stridently, hoarsely, despondently, despairingly and finally profanely by Americans who are trying to make somebody round the place understand what they are driving at.
The other inscription is carved, painted or printed on all public buildings, on most monuments, and on many private establishments as well. It is the motto of the French Republic, reading as follows:
Liberality! Economy! Frugality! [Footnote: Free translation.]
The first word of this—the Liberality part—is applicable to the foreigner and is aimed directly at him as a prayer, an injunction and a command; while the rest of it—the Economy and the Frugality —is competently attended to by the Parisians themselves. The foreigner has only to be sufficiently liberal and he is assured of a flattering reception wheresoever his straying footsteps may carry him, whether in Paris or in the provinces; but wheresoever those feet of his do carry him he will find a people distinguished by a frugality and inspired by an economy of the frugalest and most economical character conceivable. In the streets of the metropolis he is expected, when going anywhere, to hail the fast-flitting taxicab [Footnote: Stops on signal only—and sometimes not then.], though the residents patronize the public bus. Indeed, the distinction is made clear to his understanding from the moment he passes the first outlying fortress at the national frontier [Footnote: Flag station.]—since, for the looks of things if for no better reason, he must travel first-class on the de-luxe trains [Footnote: Diner taken off when you are about half through eating.], whereas the Frenchmen pack themselves tightly but frugally into the second-class and the third-class compartments.
Before I went to France I knew Saint Denis was the patron saint of the French; but I did not know why until I heard the legend connected with his death. When the executioner on the hill at Montmartre cut off his head the good saint picked it up and strolled across the fields with it tucked under his arm—so runs the tale. His head, in that shape, was no longer of any particular value to him, but your true Parisian is of a saving disposition. And so the Paris population have worshiped Saint Denis ever since. Both as a saint and as a citizen he filled the bill. He would not throw anything away, whether he needed it or not.
Paris—not the Paris of the art lover, nor the Paris of the lover of history, nor yet again the Paris of the worth-while Parisians —but the Paris which the casual male visitor samples, is the most overrated thing on earth, I reckon—except alligator-pear salad —and the most costly. Its system of conduct is predicated, based, organized and manipulated on the principle that a foreigner with plenty of money and no soul will be along pretty soon. Hence by day and by night the deadfall is rigged and the trap is set and baited—baited with a spurious gayety and an imitation joyousness; but the joyousness is as thin as one coat of sizing, and the brass shines through the plating; and behind the painted, parted lips of laughter the sharp teeth of greed show in a glittering double row. Yet gallus Mr. Fly, from the U.S.A., walks debonairly in, and out comes Monsieur Spider, ably seconded by Madame Spiderette; and between them they despoil him with the utmost dispatch. When he is not being mulcted for large sums he is being nicked for small ones. It is tip, brother, tip, and keep right on tipping.
I heard a story of an American who spent a month in Paris, taking in the sights and being taken in by them, and another month motoring through the country. At length he reached the port whence he was to sail for home. He went aboard the steamer and saw to it that his belongings were properly stored; and in the privacy of his stateroom he sat down to take an inventory of his letter of credit, now reduced to a wan and wasted specter of its once plethoric self. In the midst of casting-up he heard the signal for departure; and so he went topside of the ship and, stationing himself on the promenade deck alongside the gang-plank, he raised his voice and addressed the assembled multitude on the pier substantially as follows:
"If"—these were his words—"if there is a single, solitary individual in this fair land who has not touched me for something of value—if there be in all France a man, woman or child who has not been tipped by me—let him, her or it speak now or forever after hold their peace; because, know ye all men by these presents, I am about to go away from here and if I stay in my right mind I'm not coming back!"
And several persons were badly hurt in the crush; but they were believed afterward to have been repeaters.
I thought this story was overdrawn, but, after traveling over somewhat the same route which this fellow countryman had taken, I came to the conclusion that it was no exaggeration, but a true bill in all particulars. On the night of our second day in Paris we went to a theater to see one of the topical revues, in which Paris is supposed to excel; and for sheer dreariness and blatant vulgarity Paris revues do, indeed, excel anything of a similar nature as done in either England or in America, which is saying quite a mouthful.
In the French revue the members of the chorus reach their artistic limit in costuming when they dance forth from the wings wearing short and shabby undergarments over soiled pink fleshings and any time the dramatic interest begins to run low and gurgle in the pipes a male comedian pumps it up again by striking or kicking a woman. But to kick her is regarded as much the more whimsical conceit. This invariably sets the audience rocking with uncontrollable merriment. Howsomever, I am not writing a critique of the merits of the performance. If I were I shou1d say that to begin with the title of the piece was wrong. It should have been called Lapsus Lingerie—signifying as the Latins would say, "A Mere Slip." At this moment I am concerned with what happened upon our entrance.
At the door a middle-aged female, who was raising a natty mustache, handed us programs. I paid her for the programs and tipped her. She turned us over to a stout brunette lady who was cultivating a neat and flossy pair of muttonchops. This person escorted us down the aisle to where our seats were; so I tipped her. Alongside our seats stood a third member of the sisterhood, chiefly distinguished from her confreres by the fact that she was turning out something very fetching in the way of a brown vandyke; and after we were seated she continued to stand there, holding forth her hand toward me, palm up and fingers extended in the national gesture, and saying something in her native tongue very rapidly. Incidentally she was blocking the path of a number of people who had come down the aisle immediately behind us.
I thought possibly she desired to see our coupons, so I hauled them out and exhibited them. She shook her head at that and gabbled faster than ever. It next occurred to me that perhaps she wanted to furnish us with programs and was asking in advance for the money with which to pay for them. I explained to her that I already secured programs from her friend with the mustache. I did this mainly in English, but partly in French—at least I employed the correct French word for program, which is programme. To prove my case I pulled the two programs from my pocket and showed them to her. She continued to shake her head with great emphasis, babbling on at an increased speed. The situation was beginning to verge on the embarrassing when a light dawned on me. She wanted a tip, that was it! She had not done anything to earn a tip that I could see; and unless one had been reared in the barbering business she was not particularly attractive to look on, and even then only in a professional aspect; but I tipped her and bade her begone, and straightway she bewent, satisfied and smiling. From that moment on I knew my book. When in doubt I tipped one person—the person nearest to me. When in deep doubt I tipped two or more persons. And all was well.
On the next evening but one I had another lesson, which gave me further insight into the habits and customs of these gay and gladsome Parisians. We were completing a round of the all-night cafes and cabarets. There were four of us. Briefly, we had seen the Dead Rat, the Abbey, the Bal Tabarin the Red Mill, Maxim's, and the rest of the lot to the total number of perhaps ten or twelve. We had listened to bad singing, looked on bad dancing, sipped gingerly at bad drinks, and nibbled daintily at bad food; and the taste of it all was as grit and ashes in our mouths. We had learned for ourselves that the much-vaunted gay life of Paris was just as sad and sordid and sloppy and unsavory as the so-called gay life of any other city with a lesser reputation for gay life and gay livers. A scrap of the gristle end of the New York Tenderloin; a suggestion of a certain part of New Orleans; a short cross section of the Levee, in Chicago; a dab of the Barbary Coast of San Francisco in its old, unexpurgated days; a touch of Piccadilly Circus in London, after midnight, with a top dressing of Gehenna the Unblest—it had seemed to us a compound of these ingredients, with a distinctive savor of what was essentially Gallic permeating through it like garlic through a stew. We had had enough. Even though we had attended only as onlookers and seekers after local color, we felt that we had a-plenty of onlooking and entirely too much of local color; we felt that we should all go into retreat for a season of self-purification to rid our persons of the one and take a bath in formaldehyde to rinse our memories clean of the other. But the ruling spirit of the expedition pointed out that the evening would not be complete without a stop at a cafe that had—so he said—an international reputation for its supposed sauciness and its real Bohemian atmosphere, whatever that might be. Overcome by his argument we piled into a cab and departed thither.
This particular cafe was found, in its physical aspects, to be typical of the breed and district. It was small, crowded, overheated, underlighted, and stuffy to suffocation with the mingled aromas of stale drink and cheap perfume. As we entered a wrangle was going on among a group of young Frenchmen picturesquely attired as art students—almost a sure sign that they were not art students. An undersized girl dressed in a shabby black-and-yellow frock was doing a Spanish dance on a cleared space in the middle of the floor. We knew her instantly for a Spanish dancer, because she had a fan in one hand and a pair of castanets in the other. Another girl, dressed as a pierrot, was waiting to do her turn when the Spanish dancer finished. Weariness showed through the lacquer of thick cosmetic on her peaked little face. An orchestra of three pieces sawed wood steadily; and at intervals, to prove that these were gay and blithesome revels, somebody connected with the establishment threw small, party-colored balls of celluloid about. But what particularly caught our attention was the presence in a far corner of two little darkies in miniature dress suits, both very wally of eye, very brown of skin, and very shaved as to head, huddled together there as though for the poor comfort of physical contact. As soon as they saw us they left their place and sidled up, tickled beyond measure to behold American faces and hear American voices.
They belonged, it seemed, to a troupe of jubilee singers who had been imported from the States for the delectation of French audiences. At night, after their work at a vaudeville theater was done, the members of their company were paired off and sent about to the cafes to earn their keep by singing ragtime songs and dancing buck dances. These two were desperately, pathetically homesick. One of them blinked back the tears when he told us, with the plaintive African quaver in his voice, how long they had been away from their own country and how happy they would be to get back to it again.
"We suttin'ly is glad to heah somebody talkin' de reg'lar New 'Nited States talk, same as we does," he said. "We gits mighty tired of all dis yere French jabberin'!"
"Yas, suh," put in his partner; "dey meks a mighty fuss over cullud folks over yere; but 'tain't noways lak home. I comes from Bummin'ham, Alabama, myse'f. Does you gen'lemen know anybody in Bummin'ham?"
They were the first really wholesome creatures who had crossed our paths that night. They crowded up close to us and there they stayed until we left, as grateful as a pair of friendly puppies for a word or a look. Presently, though, something happened that made us forget these small dark compatriots of ours. We had had sandwiches all round and a bottle of wine. When the waiter brought the check it fell haply into the hands of the one person in our party who knew French and—what was an even more valuable accomplishment under the present circumstances—knew the intricate French system of computing a bill. He ran a pencil down the figures. Then he consulted the price list on the menu and examined the label on the neck of the wine bottle, and then he gave a long whistle. "What's the trouble?" asked one of us.
"Oh, not much!" he said. "We had a bottle of wine priced at eighteen francs and they have merely charged us twenty-four francs for it—six francs overcharge on that one item alone. The total for the sandwiches should have been six francs, and it is put down at ten francs. And here, away down at the bottom, I find a mysterious entry of four francs, which seems to have no bearing on the case at all—unless it be that they just simply need the money. I expected to be skinned somewhat, but I object to being peeled. I'm afraid, at the risk of appearing mercenary, that we'll have to ask our friend for a recount."
He beckoned the waiter to him and fired a volley of rapid French in the waiter's face. The waiter batted his eyes and shrugged his shoulders; then reversing the operation he shrugged his eyelids and batted his shoulderblades, meantime endeavoring volubly to explain. Our friend shoved the check into his hands and waved him away. He was back again in a minute with the account corrected. That is, it was corrected to the extent that the wine item had been reduced to twenty-one francs and the sandwiches to eight francs.
By now our paymaster was as hot as a hornet. His gorge rose—his freeborn, independent American gorge. It rose clear to the ceiling and threw off sparks and red clinkers. He sent for the manager. The manager came, all bows and graciousness and rumply shirtfront; and when he heard what was to be said he became all apologies and indignation. He regretted more than words could tell that the American gentlemen who deigned to patronize his restaurant had been put to annoyance. The garcon—here he turned and burned up that individual with a fiery sideglance—was a debased idiot and the misbegotten son of a yet greater and still more debased idiot. The cashier was a green hand and an imbecile besides. It was incredible, impossible, that the overcharging had been done deliberately; that was inconceivable. But the honor of his establishment was at stake. They should both, garcon and cashier, be discharged on the spot. First, however, he would rectify all mistakes. Would monsieur intrust the miserable addition to him for a moment, for one short moment? Monsieur would and did.
This time the amount was made right and our friend handed over in payment a fifty-franc note. With his own hands the manager brought back the change. Counting it over, the payee found it five francs short. Attention being directed to this error the manager became more apologetic and more explanatory than ever, and supplied the deficiency with a shiny new five-franc piece from his own pocket. And then, when we had gone away from there and had traveled a homeward mile or two, our friend found that the new shiny five-franc piece was counterfeit—as false a thing as that manager's false smile. We had bucked the unbeatable system, and we had lost.
Earlier that same evening we spent a gloom-laden quarter of an hour in another cafe—one which owes its fame and most of its American customs to the happy circumstance that in a certain famous comic opera produced a few years ago a certain popular leading man sang a song extolling its fascinations. The man who wrote the song must have had a full-flowered and glamorous imagination, for he could see beauty where beauty was not. To us there seemed nothing particularly fanciful about the place except the prices they charged for refreshments. However, something unusual did happen there once. It was not premeditated though; the proprietor had nothing to do with it. Had he known what was about to occur undoubtedly he would have advertised it in advance and sold tickets for it.
By reason of circumstances over which he had no control, but which had mainly to do with a locked-up wardrobe, an American of convivial mentality was in his room at his hotel one evening, fairly consumed with loneliness. Above all things he desired to be abroad amid the life and gayety of the French capital; but unfortunately he had no clothes except boudoir clothes, and no way of getting any, either, Which made the situation worse. He had already tried the telephone in a vain effort to communicate with a ready-made clothing establishment in the Rue St. Honore. Naturally he had failed, as he knew he would before he tried. Among Europeans the telephone is not the popular and handy adjunct of every-day life it is among us. The English have small use for it because it is, to start with, a wretched Yankee invention; besides, an Englishman in a hurry takes a cab, as his father before him did—takes the same cab his father took, if possible—and the Latin races dislike telephone conversations because the gestures all go to absolute waste. The French telephone resembles a dingus for curling the hair. You wrap it round your head, with one end near your mouth and the other end near your ear, and you yell in it a while and curse in it a while; and then you slam it down and go and send a messenger. The hero of the present tale, however, could not send a messenger—the hotel people had their orders to the contrary from one who was not to be disobeyed.
Finally in stark desperation, maddened by the sounds of sidewalk revelry that filtered up to him intermittently, he incased his feet in bed-room slippers, slid a dressing gown over his pajamas, and negotiated a successful escape from the hotel by means of a rear way. Once in the open he climbed into a handy cab and was driven to the cafe of his choice, it being the same cafe mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago.
Through a side entrance he made a hasty and unhindered entrance into this place—not that he would have been barred under any circumstances, inasmuch as he had brought a roll with him. A person with a cluster of currency on hand is always suitably dressed in Paris, no matter if he has nothing else on; and this man had brought much ready cash with him. He could have gone in fig-leaved like Eve, or fig-leafless like September Morn, it being remembered that as between these two, as popularly depicted, Morn wears even less than Eve. So he whisked in handily, and when he had hidden the lower part of himself under a table he felt quite at home and proceeded to have a large and full evening.
Soon there entered another American, and by that mental telepathy which inevitably attracts like-spirit to like-spirit he was drawn to the spot where the first American sat. He introduced himself as one feeling the need of congenial companionship, and they shook hands and exchanged names, and the first man asked the second man to be seated; so they sat together and had something together, and then something more together; and as the winged moments flew they grew momentarily more intimate. Finally the newcomer said:
"This seems a pretty lachrymose shop. Suppose we go elsewhere and look for some real doings."
"Your proposition interests me strangely," said the first man; "but there are two reasons—both good ones—why I may not fare forth with you. Look under the table and you'll see 'em."
The second man looked and comprehended, for he was a married man himself; and he grasped the other's hand in warm and comforting sympathy.
"Old Man," he said—for they had already reached the Old Man stage—"don't let that worry you. Why, I've got more pants than any man with only one set of legs has any right to have. I've got pants that've never been worn. You stay right here and don't move until I come back. My hotel is just round the corner from here."
No sooner said than done. He went and in a surprisingly short time was back, bearing spare trousers with him. Beneath the shielding protection of the table draperies the succored one slipped them on, and they were a perfect fit. Now he was ready to go where adventure might await them. They tarried, though, to finish the last bottle.
Over the rim of his glass the second man ventured an opinion on a topic of the day. Instantly the first man challenged him. It seemed to him inconceivable that a person with intelligence enough to have amassed so many pairs of trousers should harbor such a delusion. He begged of his new-found friend to withdraw the statement, or at least to abate it. The other man was sorry, but he simply could not do it. He stood ready to concede almost anything else, but on this particular point he was adamant; in fact, adamant was in comparison with him as pliable as chewing taffy. Much as he regretted it, he could not modify his assertion by so much as one brief jot or one small tittle without violating the consistent principles of a consistent life. He felt that way about it. All his family felt that way about it.
"Then, sir," said the first man with a rare dignity, "I regret to wound your feelings; but my sensibilities are such that I cannot accept, even temporarily, the use of a pair of trousers from the loan collection of a person who entertains such false and erroneous conceptions. I have the pleasure, sir, of wishing you good night."
With these words he shucked off the borrowed habiliments and slammed them into the abashed bosom of the obstinate stranger and went back to his captivity—pantless, 'tis true, but with his honor unimpaired.
The majority of these all-night places in Paris are singularly and monotonously alike. In the early hours of the evening the musicians rest from their labors; the regular habitues lay aside their air of professional abandon; with true French frugality the lights burn dim and low. But anon sounds the signal from the front of the house. Strike up the band; here comes a sucker! Somebody resembling ready money has arrived. The lights flash on, the can-canners take the floor, the garcons flit hither and yon, and all is excitement.
Enter the opulent American gentleman. Half a dozen functionaries greet him rapturously, bowing before his triumphant progress. Others relieve him of his hat and his coat, so that he cannot escape prematurely. A whole reception committee escorts him to a place of honor facing the dancing arena. The natives of the quarter stand in rows in the background, drinking beer or nothing at all; but the distinguished stranger sits at a front table and is served with champagne, and champagne only. It is inferior champagne; but because it is labeled American Brut—what ever that may denote—and because there is a poster on the bottle showing the American flag in the correct colors, he pays several times its proper value for it. From far corners and remote recesses coryphees and court jesters swarm forth to fawn on him, bask in his presence, glory in his smile—and sell him something. The whole thing is as mercenary as passing the hat. Cigarette girls, flower girls and bonbon girls, postcard venders and confetti dispensers surround him impenetrably, taking him front, rear, by the right flank and the left; and they shove their wares in his face and will not take No for an answer; but they will take anything else.
Two years ago at a hunting camp in North Carolina, I thought I had met the creature with the most acute sense of hearing of any living thing. I refer to Pearl, the mare. Pearl was an elderly mare, white in color and therefore known as Pearl. She was most gentle and kind. She was a reliable family animal too—had a colt every year—but in her affiliations she was a pronounced reactionary. She went through life listening for somebody to say Whoa! Her ears were permanently slanted backward on that very account. She belonged to the Whoa Lodge, which has a large membership among humans.
Riding behind Pearl you uttered the talismanic word in the thinnest thread of a whisper and instantly she stopped. You could spell Whoa! on your fingers, and she would stop. You could take a pencil and a piece of paperout of your pocket and write down Whoa!—and she would stop; but, compared with a sample assortment of these cabaret satellites, Pearl would have seemed deaf as a post. Clear across a hundred-foot dance-hall they catch the sound of a restless dollar turning over in the fob pocket of an American tourist.
And they come a-running and get it. Under the circumstances it requires self-hypnotism of a high order, and plenty of it, to make an American think he is enjoying himself. Still, he frequently attains to that happy comsummation. To begin with, is he not in Gay Paree?—as it is familiarly called in Rome Center and all points West? He is! Has he not kicked over the traces and cut loose with intent to be oh, so naughty for one naughty night of his life? Such are the facts. Finally, and herein lies the proof conclusive, he is spending a good deal of money and is getting very little in return for it. Well, then, what better evidence is required? Any time he is paying four or five prices for what he buys and does not particularly need it—or want it after it is bought—the average American can delude himself into the belief that he is having a brilliant evening. This is a racial trait worthy of the scientific consideration of Professor Hugo Munsterberg and other students of our national psychology. So far the Munsterberg school has overlooked it—but the canny Parisians have not. They long ago studied out every quirk and wriggle of it, and capitalized it to their own purpose. Liberality! Economy! Frugality!—there they are, everywhere blazoned forth—Liberality for you, Economy and Frugality for them. Could anything on earth be fairer than that?
Even so, the rapturous reception accorded to a North American pales to a dim and flickery puniness alongside the perfect riot and whirlwind of enthusiasm which marks the entry into an all-night place of a South American. Time was when, to the French understanding, exuberant prodigality and the United States were terms synonymous; that time has passed. Of recent years our young kinsmen from the sister republics nearer the Equator and the Horn have invaded Paris in numbers, bringing their impulsive temperaments and their bankrolls with them. Thanks to these young cattle kings, these callow silver princes from Argentina and Brazil, from Peru and from Ecuador, a new and more gorgeous standard for money wasting has been established. You had thought, perchance, there was no rite and ceremonial quite so impressive as a head waiter in a Fifth Avenue restaurant squeezing the blood out of a semi-raw canvasback in a silver duck press for a free spender from Butte or Pittsburgh. I, too, had thought that; but wait, just wait, until you have seen a maitre d'hotel on the Avenue de l'Opera, with the smile of the canary-fed cat on his face, standing just behind a hide-and-tallow baron or a guano duke from somewhere in Far Spiggottyland, watching this person as he wades into the fresh fruit—checking off on his fingers each blushing South African peach at two francs the bite, and each purple cluster of hothouse grapes at one franc the grape. That spectacle, believe me, is worth the money every time.
There is just one being whom the dwellers of the all-night quarter love and revere more deeply than they love a downy, squabbling scion of some rich South American family, and that is a large, broad negro pugilist with a mouthful of gold teeth and a shirtfront full of yellow diamonds. To an American—and especially to an American who was reared below Mason and Dixon's justly popular Line—it is indeed edifying to behold a black heavyweight fourthrater from South Clark Street, Chicago, taking his ease in a smart cafe, entirely surrounded by worshipful boulevardiers, both male and female.
Now, as I remarked at an earlier stage of these observations, there is another Paris besides this—a Paris of history, of art, of architecture, of literature, of refinement; a Paris inhabited by a people with a pride in their past, a pluck in their present, and a faith in their future; a Paris of kindly aristocrats, of thrifty, pious plain people; a Paris of students and savants and scientists, of great actors and great scientists and great dramatists. There is one Paris that might well be burned to its unclean roots, and another Paris that will be glorified in the minds of mankind forever. And it would be as unfair to say that the Paris which comes flaunting its tinsel of vice and pinchbeck villainy in the casual tourist's face is the real Paris, as it would be for a man from the interior of the United States to visit New York and, after interviewing one Bowery bouncer, one Tenderloin cabman, and one Broadway ticket speculator, go back home and say he had met fit representatives of the predominant classes of New York society and had found them unfit. Yes, it would be even more unfair. For the alleged gay life of New York touches at some point of contact or other the lives of most New Yorkers, whereas in Paris there are numbers of sane and decent folks who seem to know nothing except by hearsay of what goes on after dark in the Montmartre district. Besides, no man in the course of a short and crowded stay may hope to get under the skin of any community, great or small. He merely skims its surface cuticle; he sees no deeper than the pores and the hair-roots. The arteries, the frame, the real tissue-structure remain hidden to him. Therefore the pity seems all the greater that, to the world at large, the bad Paris should mean all Paris. It is that other and more wholesome Paris which one sees—a light-hearted, good-natured, polite and courteous Paris—when one, biding his time and choosing the proper hour and proper place, goes abroad to seek it out.
For the stranger who does at least a part of his sight-seeing after a rational and orderly fashion, there are pictures that will live in the memory always: the Madeleine, with the flower market just alongside; the green and gold woods of the Bois de Boulogne; the grandstand of the racecourse at Longchamp on a fair afternoon in the autumn; the Opera at night; the promenade of the Champs-Elysees on a Sunday morning after church; the Gardens of the Tuileries; the wonderful circling plaza of the Place Vendome, where one may spend a happy hour if the maniacal taxi-drivers deign to spare one's life for so unaccountably long a period; the arcades of the Rue de Rivoli, with their exquisite shops, where every other shop is a jeweler's shop and every jeweler's shop is just like every other jeweler's shop—which fact ceases to cause wonder when one learns that, with a few notable exceptions, all these shops carry their wares on commission from the stocks of the same manufacturing jewelers; the old Ile de la Cite, with the second-hand bookstalls stretching along the quay, and the Seine placidly meandering between its man-made, man-ruled banks. Days spent here seem short days; but that may be due in some part to the difference between our time and theirs. In Paris, you know, the day ends five or six hours earlier than it does in America.
The two Palaces of Fine Arts are fine enough; and finer still, on beyond them, is the great Pont Alexandre III; but, to my untutored instincts, all three of these, with their clumpings of flag standards and their grouping of marble allegories, which are so aching-white to the eye in the sunlight, seemed overly suggestive of a World's Fair as we know such things in America. Seeing them I knew where the architects who designed the main approaches and the courts of honor for all our big expositions got their notions for color schemes and statuary effects. I liked better those two ancient triumphal arches of St.-Martin and St.-Denis on the Boulevard St.-Denis, and much better even than these the tremendous sweep of the Place de la Concorde, which is one of the finest squares in the world, and the one with the grimmest, bloodiest history, I reckon.
The Paris to which these things properly appertain is at its very best and brightest on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the parks where well-to-do people drive or ride, and their children play among the trees under the eyes of nursemaids in the quaint costumes of Normandy, though, for all I know, it may be Picardy. Elsewhere in these parks the not-so-well-to-do gather in great numbers; some drinking harmless sirupy drinks at the gay little refreshment kiosks; some packing themselves about the man who has tamed the tree sparrows until they come at his call and hive in chattering, fluttering swarms on his head and his arms and shoulders; some applauding a favorite game of the middle classes that is being played in every wide and open space. I do not know its name —could not find anybody who seemed to know its name—but this game is a kind of glorified battledore and shuttlecock played with a small, hard ball capable of being driven high and far by smartly administered strokes of a hide-headed, rimmed device shaped like a tambourine. It would seem also to be requisite to its proper playing that each player shall have a red coat and a full spade beard, and a tremendous amount of speed and skill. If the ball gets lost in anybody's whiskers I think it counts ten for the opposing side; but I do not know the other rules.
A certain indefinable, unmistakably Gallic flavor or piquancy savors the life of the people; it disappears only when they cease to be their own natural selves. A woman novelist, American by birth, but a resident of several years in Paris, told me a story illustrative of this. The incident she narrated was so typical that it could never have happened except in Paris, I thought. She said she was one of a party who went one night to dine at a little cafe much frequented by artists and art students. The host was himself an artist of reputation. As they dined there entered a tall, gloomy figure of a man with a long, ugly face full of flexible wrinkles; such a figure and such a face as instantly commanded their attention. This man slid into a seat at a table near their table and had a frugal meal. He had reached the stage of demitasse and cigarette when he laid down cup and cigarette and, fetching a bit of cardboard and a crayon out of his pocket, began putting down lines and shadings; between strokes he covertly studied the profile of the man who was giving the dinner party. Not to be outdone the artist hauled out his drawing pad and pencil and made a quick sketch of the long-faced man. Both finished their jobs practically at the same moment; and, rising together with low bows, they exchanged pictures—each had done a rattling good caricature of the other—and then, without a word having been spoken or a move made toward striking up an acquaintance, each man sat him down again and finished his dinner.
The lone diner departed first. When the party at the other table had had their coffee they went round the corner to a little circus —one of the common type of French circuses, which are housed in permanent wooden buildings instead of under tents. Just as they entered, the premier clown, in spangles and peak cap, bounded into the ring. Through the coating of powder on it they recognized his wrinkly, mobile face: it was the sketch-making stranger whose handiwork they had admired not half an hour before.
Hearing the tale we went to the same circus and saw the same clown. His ears were painted bright red—the red ear is the inevitable badge of the French clown—and he had as a foil for his funning a comic countryman known on the program as Auguste, which is the customary name of all comic countrymen in France; and, though I knew only at second hand of his sketch-making abilities, I am willing to concede that he was the drollest master of pantomime I ever saw. On leaving the circus, very naturally we went to the cafe—where the first part of the little dinner comedy had been enacted. We encountered both artists, professional or amateur, of blacklead and bristol board, but we met a waiter there who was an artist—in his line. I ordered a cigar of him, specifying that the cigar should be of a brand made in Havana and popular in the States. He brought one cigar on a tray. In size and shape and general aspect it seemed to answer the required specifications. The little belly band about its dark-brown abdomen was certainly orthodox and regular; but no sooner had I lit it and taken a couple of puffs than I was seized with the conviction that something had crawled up that cigar and died. So I examined it more closely and I saw then that it was a bad French cigar, artfully adorned about its middle with a second-hand band, which the waiter had picked up after somebody else had plucked it off one of the genuine articles and had treasured it, no doubt, against the coming of some unsophisticated patron such as I. And I doubt whether that could have happened anywhere except in Paris either. That is just it, you see. Try as hard as you please to see the real Paris, the Paris of petty larceny and small, mean graft intrudes on you and takes a peck at your purse.
Go where you will, you cannot escape it. You journey, let us assume, to the Tomb of Napoleon, under the great dome that rises behind the wide-armed Hotel des Invalides. From a splendid rotunda you look down to where, craftily touched by the softened lights streaming in from high above, that great sarcophagus stands housing the bones of Bonaparte; and above the entrance to the crypt you read the words from the last will and testament of him who sleeps here: "I desire that my ashes may repose on the banks of the Seine, among the French people I have so well loved." And you reflect that he so well loved them that, to glut his lusting after power and yet more power, he led sundry hundreds of thousands of them to massacre and mutilation and starvation; but that is the way of world—conquerors the world over—and has absolutely nothing to do with this tale. The point I am trying to get at is, if you can gaze unmoved at this sepulcher you are a clod. And if you can get away from its vicinity without being held up and gouged by small grafters you are a wonder.
Not tombs nor temples nor sanctuaries are safe from the profane and polluting feet of the buzzing plague of them. You journey miles away from this spot to the great cemetery of Pere Lachaise. You trudge past seemingly unending, constantly unfolding miles of monuments and mausoleums; you view the storied urns and animated busts that mark the final resting-places of France's illustrious dead. And as you marvel that France should have had so many illustrious dead, and that so many of them at this writing should be so dead, out from behind De Musset's vault or Marshal Ney's comes a snoopy, smirky wretch to pester you to the desperation that is red-eyed and homicidal with his picture post cards and his execrable wooden carvings.
You fight the persistent vermin off and flee for refuge to that shrine of every American who knows his Mark Twain—the joint grave [Footnote: Being French, and therefore economical, those two are, as it were, splitting one tomb between them.] of Hell Loisy and Abie Lard [Footnote: Popular tourist pronunciation.] and lo, in the very shadow of it there lurks a blood brother to the first pest! I defy you to get out of that cemetery without buying something of no value from one or the other, or both of them. The Communists made their last stand in Pere Lachaise. So did I. They went down fighting. Same here. They were licked to a frazzle. Ditto, ditto.
Next, we will say, Notre Dame draws you. Within, you walk the clattering flags of its dim, long aisles; without, you peer aloft to view its gargoyled waterspouts, leering down like nightmares caught in the very act of leering and congealed into stone. The spirit of the place possesses you; you conjure up a vision of the little maid Esmeralda and the squat hunchback who dwelt in the tower above; and at the precise moment a foul vagabond pounces on you and, with a wink that is in itself an insult and a smile that should earn for him a kick for every inch of its breadth, he draws from beneath his coat a set of nasty photographs—things which no decent man could look at without gagging and would not carry about with him on his person for a million dollars in cash. By threats and hard words you drive him off; but seeing others of his kind drawing nigh you run away, with no particular destination in mind except to discover some spot, however obscure and remote, where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary may be at rest for a few minutes. You cross a bridge to the farther bank of the river and presently you find yourself—at least I found myself there—in one of the very few remaining quarters of old Paris, as yet untouched by the scheme of improvement that is wiping out whatever is medieval and therefore unsanitary, and making it all over, modern and slick and shiny.
Losing yourself—and with yourself your sense of the reality of things—you wander into a maze of tall, beetle-browed old houses with tiny windows that lower at you from under their dormered lids like hostile eyes. Above, on the attic ledges, are boxes of flowers and coops where caged larks and linnets pipe cheery snatches of song; and on beyond, between the eaves, which bend toward one another like gossips who would swap whispered confidences, is a strip of sky. Below are smells of age and dampness. And there is a rich, nutritious garlicky smell too; and against a jog in the wall a frowsy but picturesque rag-picker is asleep on a pile of sacks, with a big sleek cat asleep on his breast. I do not guarantee the rag-picker. He and his cat may have moved since I was there and saw them, although they had the look about them both of being permanent fixtures.
You pass a little church, lolling and lopped with the weight of the years; and through its doors you catch a vista of old pillars and soft half-lights, and twinkling candles set upon the high altar. Not even the jimcrackery with which the Latin races dress up their holy places and the graves of their dead can entirely dispel its abiding, brooding air of peace and majesty. You linger a moment outside just such a tavern as a certain ragged poet of parts might have frequented the while he penned his versified inquiry which after all these centuries is not yet satisfactorily answered, touching on the approximate whereabouts of the snows that fell yesteryear and the roses that bloomed yesterweek.
Midway of a winding alley you come to an ancient wall and an ancient gate crowned with the half-effaced quarterings of an ancient house, and you halt, almost expecting that the rusted hinges will creak a warning and the wooden halves begrudgingly divide, and that from under the slewed arch will issue a most gallant swashbuckler with his buckles all buckled and his swash swashing; hence the name.
At this juncture you feel a touch on your shoulder. You spin on your heel, feeling at your hip for an imaginary sword. But 'tis not Master Francois Villon, in tattered doublet, with a sonnet. Nor yet is it a jaunty blade, in silken cloak, with a challenge. It is your friend of the obscene photograph collection. He has followed you all the way from 1914 clear back into the Middle Ages, biding his time and hoping you will change your mind about investing in his nasty wares.
With your wife or your sister you visit the Louvre. You look on the Winged Victory and admire her classic but somewhat bulky proportions, meantime saying to yourself that it certainly must have been a mighty hard battle the lady won, because she lost her head and both arms in doing it. You tire of interminable portraits of the Grand Monarch, showing him grouped with his wife, the Old-fashioned Square Upright; and his son, the Baby Grand; and his prime minister, the Lyre; and his brother, the Yellow Clarinet, and the rest of the orchestra. You examine the space on the wall where Mona Lisa is or is not smiling her inscrutable smile, depending on whether the open season for Mona Lisas has come or has passed. Wandering your weary way past acres of the works of Rubens, and miles of Titians, and townships of Corots, and ranges of Michelangelos, and quarter sections of Raphaels, and government reserves of Leonardo da Vincis, you stray off finally into a side passage to see something else, leaving your wife or your sister behind in one of the main galleries. You are gone only a minute or two, but returning you find her furiously, helplessly angry and embarrassed; and on inquiry you learn she has been enduring the ordeal of being ogled by a small, wormy-looking creature who has gone without shaving for two or three years in a desperate endeavor to resemble a real man.
Some day somebody will take a squirt-gun and a pint of insect powder and destroy these little, hairy caterpillars who infest all parts of Paris and make it impossible for a respectable woman to venture on the streets unaccompanied.
Let us, for the further adornment and final elaboration of the illustration, say that you are sitting at one of the small round tables which make mushroom beds under the awnings along the boulevards. All about you are French people, enjoying themselves in an easy and a rational and an inexpensive manner. As for yourself, all you desire is a quiet half hour in which to read your paper, sip your coffee, and watch the shifting panorama of street life. That emphatically is all you ask; merely that and a little privacy. Are you permitted to have it? You are not.
Beggars beseech you to look on their afflictions. Sidewalk venders cluster about you. And if you are smoking the spark of your cigar inevitably draws a full delegation of those moldy old whiskerados who follow the profession of collecting butts and quids. They hover about you, watchful as chicken hawks; and their bleary eyes envy you for each puff you take, until you grow uneasy and self-reproachful under their glare, and your smoke is spoiled for you. Very few men smoke well before an audience, even an audience of their own selection; so before your cigar is half finished you toss it away, and while it is yet in the air the watchers leap forward and squabble under your feet for the prize. Then the winner emerges from the scramble and departs along the sidewalk to seek his next victim, with the still-smoking trophy impaled on his steel-pointed tool of trade.
In desperation you rise up from there and flee away to your hotel and hide in your room, and lock and double-lock the doors, and begin to study timetables with a view to quitting Paris on the first train leaving for anywhere, the only drawback to a speedy consummation of this happy prospect being that no living creature can fathom the meaning of French timetables.
It is not so much the aggregate amount of which they have despoiled you—it is the knowledge that every other person in Paris is seeking and planning to nick you for some sum, great or small; it is the realization that, by reason of your ignorance of the language and the customs of the land, you are at their mercy, and they have no mercy—that, as Walter Pater so succinctly phrases it, that is what gets your goat—and gets it good!
So you shake the dust from your feet—your own dust, not Paris' dust—and you depart per hired hack for the station and per train from the station. And as the train draws away from the trainshed you behold behind you two legends or inscriptions, repeated and reiterated everywhere on the walls of the French capital.
One of them says: English Spoken Here!
And the other says: Liberality! Economy! Frugality!
London is essentially a he-town, just as Paris is indubitably a she-town. That untranslatable, unmistakable something which is not to be defined in the plain terms of speech, yet which sets its mark on any long-settled community, has branded them both—the one as being masculine, the other as being feminine. For Paris the lily stands, the conventionalized, feminized lily; but London is a lion, a shag-headed, heavy-pawed British lion.
One thinks of Paris as a woman, rather pretty, somewhat regardless of morals and decidedly slovenly of person; craving admiration, but too indolent to earn it by keeping herself presentable; covering up the dirt on a piquant face with rice powder; wearing paste jewels in her earlobes in an effort to distract criticism from the fact that the ears themselves stand in need of soap and water. London, viewed in retrospect, seems a great, clumsy, slow-moving giant, with hair on his chest and soil under his nails; competent in the larger affairs and careless about the smaller ones; amply satisfied with himself and disdainful of the opinions of outsiders; having all of a man's vices and a good share of his virtues; loving sport for sport's sake and power for its own sake and despising art for art's sake.
You do not have to spend a week or a month or a year in either Paris or London to note these things. The distinction is wide enough to be seen in a day; yes, or in an hour. It shows in all the outer aspects. An overtowering majority of the smart shops in Paris cater to women; a large majority of the smart shops in London cater to men. It shows in their voices; for cities have voices just as individuals have voices. New York is not yet old enough to have found its own sex. It belongs still to the neuter gender. New York is not even a noun—it's a verb transitive; but its voice is a female voice, just as Paris' voice is. New York, like Paris, is full of strident, shrieking sounds, shrill outcries, hysterical babblings—a women's bridge-whist club at the hour of casting up the score; but London now is different. London at all hours speaks with a sustained, sullen, steady, grinding tone, never entirely sinking into quietude, never rising to acute discords. The sound of London rolls on like a river—a river that ebbs sometimes, but rarely floods above its normal banks; it impresses one as the necessary breathing of a grunting and burdened monster who has a mighty job on his hands and is taking his own good time about doing it.
In London, mind you, the newsboys do not shout their extras. They bear in their hands placards with black-typed announcements of the big news story of the day; and even these headings seem designed to soothe rather than to excite—saying, for example, such things as Special From Liner, in referring to a disaster at sea, and Meeting in Ulster, when meaning that the northern part of Ireland has gone on record as favoring civil war before home rule.
The street venders do not bray on noisy trumpets or ring with bells or utter loud cries to advertise their wares. The policeman does not shout his orders out; he holds aloft the stripe-sleeved arm of authority and all London obeys. I think the reason why the Londoners turned so viciously on the suffragettes was not because of the things the suffragettes clamored for, but because they clamored for them so loudly. They jarred the public peace—that must have been it.
I can understand why an adult American might go to Paris and stay in Paris and be satisfied with Paris, if he were a lover of art and millinery in all their branches; or why he might go to Berlin if he were studying music and municipal control; or to Amsterdam if he cared for cleanliness and new cheese; or to Vienna if he were concerned with surgery, light opera, and the effect on the human lungs of doing without fresh air for long periods of time; or to Rome if he were an antiquarian and interested in ancient life; or to Naples if he were an entomologist and interested in insect life; or to Venice if he liked ruins with water round them; or to Padua if he liked ruins with no water anywhere near them. No: I'm blessed if I can think of a single good reason why a sane man should go to Padua if he could go anywhere else.
But I think I know, good and well, why a man might spend his whole vacation in London and enjoy every minute of it. For this old fogy, old foggy town of London is a man-sized town, and a man-run town; and it has a fascination of its own that is as much a part of it as London's grime is; or London's vastness and London's pettiness; or London's wealth and its stark poverty; or its atrocious suburbs; or its dirty, trade-fretted river; or its dismal back streets; or its still more dismal slums—or anything that is London's.
To a man hailing from a land where everything is so new that quite a good deal of it has not even happened yet, it is a joyful thing to turn off a main-traveled road into one of the crooked byways in which the older parts of London abound, and suddenly to come, full face, on a house or a court or a pump which figured in epochal history or epochal literature of the English-speaking race. It is a still greater joy to find it—house or court or pump or what not—looking now pretty much as it must have looked when good Queen Bess, or little Dick Whittington, or Chaucer the scribe, or Shakspere the player, came this way. It is fine to be riding through the country and pass a peaceful green meadow and inquire its name of your driver and be told, most offhandedly, that it is a place called Runnymede. Each time this happened to me I felt the thrill of a discoverer; as though I had been the first traveler to find these spots.
I remember that through an open door I was marveling at the domestic economies of an English barber shop. I use the word economies in this connection advisedly; for, compared with the average high-polished, sterilized and antiseptic barber shop of an American city, this shop seemed a torture cave. In London, pubs are like that, and some dentists' establishments and law offices—musty, fusty dens very unlike their Yankee counterparts. In this particular shop now the chairs were hard, wooden chairs; the looking-glass —you could not rightly call it a mirror—was cracked and bleary; and an apprentice boy went from one patron to another, lathering each face; and then the master followed after him, razor in hand, and shaved the waiting countenances in turn. Flies that looked as though they properly belonged in a livery stable were buzzing about; and there was a prevalent odor which made me think that all the sick pomade in the world had come hither to spend its last declining hours. I said to myself that this place would bear further study; that some day, when I felt particularly hardy and daring, I would come here and be shaved, and afterward would write a piece about it and sell it for money. So, the better to fix its location in my mind, I glanced up at the street sign and, behold! I was hard by Drury Lane, where Sweet Nelly once on a time held her court.
Another time I stopped in front of a fruiterer's, my eye having been caught by the presence in his window of half a dozen draggled-looking, wilted roasting ears decorated with a placard reading as follows:
AMERICAN MAIZE OR INDIAN CORN A VEGETABLE—TO BE BOILED AND THEN EATEN
I was remarking to myself that these Britishers were surely a strange race of beings—that if England produced so delectable a thing as green corn we in America would import it by the shipload and serve it on every table; whereas here it was so rare that they needs must label it as belonging to the vegetable kingdom, lest people should think it might be an animal—when I chanced to look more closely at the building occupied by the fruiterer and saw that it was an ancient house, half-timbered above the first floor, with a queer low-browed roof. Inquiring afterward I learned that this house dated straight back to Elizabethan days and still on beyond for so many years that no man knew exactly how many; and I began to understand in a dim sort of way how and why it was these people held so fast to the things they had and cared so little for the things they had not.
Better than by all the reading you have ever done you absorb a sense and realization of the splendor of England's past when you go to Westminster Abbey and stand—figuratively—with one foot on Jonson and another on Dryden; and if, overcome by the presence of so much dead-and-gone greatness, you fall in a fit you commit a trespass on the last resting-place of Macaulay or Clive, or somebody of equal consequence. More imposing even than Westminster is St. Paul's. I am not thinking so much of the memorials or the tombs or the statues there, but of the tattered battleflags bearing the names of battles fought by the English in every crack and cranny of the world, from Quebec to Ladysmith, and from Lucknow to Khartum. Beholding them there, draped above the tombs, some faded but still intact, some mere clotted wisps of ragged silk clinging to blackened standards, gives one an uplifting conception of the spirit that has sent the British soldier forth to girth the globe, never faltering, never slackening pace, never giving back a step to-day but that he took two steps forward to-morrow; never stopping—except for tea.
The fool hath said in his heart that he would go to England and come away and write something about his impressions, but never write a single, solitary word about the Englishman's tea-drinking habit, or the Englishman's cricket-playing habit, or the Englishman's lack of a sense of humor. I was that fool. But it cannot be done. Lacking these things England would not be England. It would be Hamlet without Hamlet or the Ghost or the wicked Queen or mad Ophelia or her tiresome old pa; for most English life and the bulk of English conversation center about sporting topics, with the topic of cricket predominating. And at a given hour of the day the wheels of the empire stop, and everybody in the empire—from the king in the counting house counting up his money, to the maid in the garden hanging out the clothes—drops what he or she may be doing and imbibes tea until further orders. And what oceans of tea they do imbibe!
There was an old lady who sat near us in a teashop one afternoon. As well as might be judged by one who saw her in a sitting posture only, she was no deeper than any other old lady of average dimensions; but in rapid succession she tilted five large cups of piping hot tea into herself and was starting on the sixth when we withdrew, stunned by the spectacle. She must have been fearfully long-waisted. I had a mental vision of her interior decorations—all fumed-oak wainscotings and buff-leather hangings. Still, I doubt whether their four-o'clock-tea habit is any worse than our five-o'clock cocktail habit. It all depends, I suppose, on whether one prefers being tanned inside to being pickled. But we are getting bravely over our cocktail habit, as attested by figures and the visual evidences, while their tea habit is growing on them—so the statisticians say.
As for the Englishman's sense of humor, or his lack of it, I judge that we Americans are partly wrong in our diagnosis of that phase of British character and partly right. Because he is slow to laugh at a joke, we think he cannot see the point of it without a diagram and a chart. What we do not take into consideration is that, through centuries of self-repression, the Englishman has so drilled himself into refraining from laughing in public—for fear, you see, of making himself conspicuous—it has become a part of his nature. Indeed, in certain quarters a prejudice against laughing under any circumstances appears to have sprung up.
I was looking one day through the pages of one of the critical English weeklies. Nearly all British weeklies are heavy, and this is the heaviest of the lot. Its editorial column alone weighs from twelve to eighteen pounds, and if you strike a man with a clubbed copy of it the crime is assault with a dull blunt instrument, with intent to kill. At the end of a ponderous review of the East Indian question I came on a letter written to the editor by a gentleman signing himself with his own name, and reading in part as follows:
SIR: Laughter is always vulgar and offensive. For instance, whatever there may be of pleasure in a theater—and there is not much—the place is made impossible by laughter ... No; it is very seldom that happiness is refined or pleasant to see—merriment that is produced by wine is false merriment, and there is no true merriment without it ... Laughter is profane, in fact, where it is not ridiculous.
On the other hand the English in bulk will laugh at a thing which among us would bring tears to the most hardened cheek and incite our rebellious souls to mayhem and manslaughter. On a certain night we attended a musical show at one of the biggest London theaters. There was some really clever funning by a straight comedian, but his best efforts died a-borning; they drew but the merest ripple of laughter from the audience. Later there was a scene between a sad person made up as a Scotchman and another equally sad person of color from the States. These times no English musical show is complete unless the cast includes a North American negro with his lips painted to resemble a wide slice of ripe watermelon, singing ragtime ditties touching on his chicken and his Baby Doll. This pair took the stage, all others considerately withdrawing; and presently, after a period of heartrending comicalities, the Scotchman, speaking as though he had a mouthful of hot oatmeal, proceeded to narrate an account of a fictitious encounter with a bear. Substantially this dialogue ensued:
THE SCOTCHMAN—He was a vurra fierce grizzly bear, ye ken; and he rushed at me from behind a jugged rock.
THE NEGRO—Mistah, you means a jagged rock, don't you?
THE SCOTCHMAN—Nay, nay, laddie—a jugged rock.
THE NEGRO—Whut's dat you say? Whut—whut is a jugged rock?
THE SCOTCHMAN (forgetting his accent)—Why, a rock with a jug on it, old chap. (A stage wait to let that soak into them in all its full strength.) A rock with a jug on it would be a jugged rock, wouldn't it—eh?
The pause had been sufficient—they had it now. And from all parts of the house a whoop of unrestrained joy went up.
Witnessing such spectacles as this, the American observer naturally begins to think that the English in mass cannot see a joke that is the least bit subtle. Nevertheless, however, and to the contrary notwithstanding—as Colonel Bill Sterritt, of Texas, used to say—England has produced the greatest natural humorists in the world and some of the greatest comedians, and for a great many years has supported the greatest comic paper printed in the English language, and that is Punch. Also, at an informal Saturday-night dinner in a well-known London club I heard as much spontaneous repartee from the company at large, and as much quiet humor from the chairman, as I ever heard in one evening anywhere; but if you went into that club on a weekday you might suppose somebody was dead and laid out there, and that everybody about the premises had gone into deep mourning for the deceased. If any member of that club had dared then to crack a joke they would have expelled him—as soon as they got over the shock of the bounder's confounded cheek. Saturday night? Yes. Monday afternoon? Never! And there you are!
Speaking of Punch reminds me that we were in London when Punch, after giving the matter due consideration for a period of years, came out with a colored jacket on him. If the Prime Minister had done a Highland fling in costume at high noon in Oxford Circus it could not have created more excitement than Punch created by coming out with a colored cover. Yet, to an American's understanding, the change was not so revolutionary and radical as all that. Punch's well-known lineaments remained the same. There was merely a dab of palish yellow here and there on the sheet; at first glance you might have supposed somebody else had been reading your copy of Punch at breakfastand had been careless in spooning up his soft-boiled egg.
They are our cousins, the English are; our cousins once removed, 'tis true—see standard histories of the American Revolution for further details of the removing—but they are kinsmen of ours beyond a doubt. Even if there were no other evidences, the kinship between us would still be proved by the fact that the English are the only people except the Americans who look on red meat—beef, mutton, ham—as a food to be eaten for the taste of the meat itself; whereas the other nations of the earth regard it as a vehicle for carrying various sauces, dressings and stuffings southward to the stomach. But, to the notice of the American who is paying them his first visit, they certainly do offer some amazing contradictions.
In the large matters of business the English have been accused of trickiness, which, however, may be but the voice of envious competition speaking; but in the small things they surely are most marvelously honest. Consider their railroad trains now: To a greenhorn from this side the blue water, a railroad journey out of London to almost any point in rural England is a succession of surprises, and all pleasant ones. To begin with, apparently there is nobody at the station whose business it is to show you to your train or to examine your ticket before you have found your train for yourself. There is no mad scurrying about at the moment of departure, no bleating of directions through megaphones. Unchaperoned you move along a long platform under a grimy shed, where trains are standing with their carriage doors hospitably ajar, and unassisted you find your own train and your own carriage, and enter therein.
Sharp on the minute an unseen hand—at least I never saw it—slams the doors and coyly—you might almost say secretively—the train moves out of the terminal. It moves smoothly and practically without jarring sounds. There is no shrieking of steel against steel. It is as though the rails were made of rubber and the wheel-flanges were faced with noise-proof felt. No conductor comes to punch your ticket, no brakeman to bellow the stops, no train butcher bleating the gabbled invoice of his gumdrops, bananas and other best-sellers.
Glory be! It is all so peaceful and soothing; as peaceful and as soothing as the land through which you are gliding when once you have left behind smoky London and its interminable environs; for now you are in a land that was finished and plenished five hundred years ago and since then has not been altered in any material aspect whatsoever. Every blade of grass is in its right place; every wayside shrub seemingly has been restrained and trained to grow in exactly the right and the proper way. Streaming by your car window goes a tastefully arranged succession of the thatched cottages, the huddled little towns, the meandering brooks, the ancient inns, the fine old country places, the high-hedged estates of the landed gentry, with rose-covered lodges at the gates and robust children in the doorways—just as you have always seen them in the picture books. There are fields that are velvet lawns, and lawns that are carpets of green cut-plush. England is the only country I know of that lives up—exactly and precisely—to its storybook descriptions and its storybook illustrations.
Eventually you come to your stopping point; at least you have reason to believe it may be your stopping point. As well as you may judge by the signs that plaster the front, the sides, and even the top of the station, the place is either a beef extract or a washing compound. Nor may you count on any travelers who may be sharing your compartment with you to set you right by a timely word or two. Your fellow passengers may pity you for your ignorance and your perplexity, but they would not speak; they could not, not having been introduced. A German or a Frenchman would be giving you gladly what aid he might; but a well-born Englishman who had not been introduced would ride for nine years with you and not speak. I found the best way of solving the puzzle was to consult the timecard. If the timecard said our train would reach a given point at a given hour, and this was the given hour, then we might be pretty sure this was the given point. Timetables in England are written by realists, not by gifted fiction writers of the impressionistic school, as is frequently the case in America.
So, if this timecard says it is time for you to get off you get off, with your ticket still in your possession; and if it be a small station you go yourself and look up the station master, who is tucked away in a secluded cubbyhole somewhere absorbing tea, or else is in the luggage room fussing with baby carriages and patentchurns. Having ferreted him out in his hiding-place you hand over your ticket to him and he touches his cap brim and says "Kew" very politely, which concludes the ceremony so far as you are concerned.
Then, if you have brought any heavy baggage with you in the baggage car—pardon, I meant the luggage van—you go back to the platform and pick it out from the heap of luggage that has been dumped there by the train hands. With ordinary luck and forethought you could easily pick out and claim and carry off some other person's trunk, provided you fancied it more than your own trunk, only you do not. You do not do this any more than, having purchased a second-class ticket, or a third-class, you ride first-class; though, so far as I could tell, there is no check to prevent a person from so doing. At least an Englishman never does. It never seems to occur to him to do so. The English have no imagination.
I have a suspicion that if one of our railroads tried to operate its train service on such a basis of confidence in the general public there would be a most deceitful hiatus in the receipts from passenger traffic to be reported to a distressed group of stockholders at the end of the fiscal year. This, however, is merely a supposition on my part. I may be wrong.
To a greater degree, I take it, than any other race the English have mastered the difficult art of minding their own affairs. The average Englishman is tremendously knowledgable about his own concerns and monumentally ignorant about all other things. If an Englishman's business requires that he shall learn the habits and customs of the Patagonians or the Chicagoans or any other race which, because it is not British, he naturally regards as barbaric, he goes and learns them—and learns them well. Otherwise your Britisher does not bother himself with what the outlander may or may not do.
An Englishman cannot understand an American's instinctive desire to know about things; we do not understand his lack of curiosity in that direction. Both of us forget what I think must be the underlying reasons—that we are a race which, until comparatively recently, lived wide distances apart in sparsely settled lands, and were dependent on the passing stranger for news of the rest of the world, where he belongs to a people who all these centuries have been packed together in their little island like oats in a bin. London itself is so crowded that the noses of most of the lower classes turn up—there is not room for them to point straight ahead without causing a great and bitter confusion of noses; but whether it points upward or outward or downward the owner of the nose pretty generally refrains from ramming it into other folks' business. If he and all his fellows did not do this; if they had not learned to keep their voices down and to muffle unnecessary noises; if they had not built tight covers of reserve about themselves, as the oyster builds a shell to protect his tender tissues from irritation—they would long ago have become a race of nervous wrecks instead of being what they are, the most stolid beings alive.
In London even royalty is mercifully vouchsafed a reasonable amount of privacy from the intrusion of the gimlet eye and the chisel nose. Royalty may ride in Rotten Row of a morning, promenade on the Mall at noon, and shop in the Regent Street shops in the afternoon, and at all times go unguarded and unbothered—I had almost said unnoticed. It may be that long and constant familiarity with the institution of royalty has bred indifference in the London mind to the physical presence of dukes and princes and things; but I am inclined to think a good share of it should be attributed to the inborn and ingrown British faculty for letting other folks be.
One morning as I was walking at random through the aristocratic district, of which St. James is the solar plexus and Park Lane the spinal cord, I came to a big mansion where foot-guards stood sentry at the wall gates. This house was further distinguished from its neighbors by the presence of a policeman pacing alongside it, and a newspaper photographer setting up his tripod and camera in the road, and a small knot of passers-by lingering on the opposite side of the way, as though waiting for somebody to come along or something to happen. I waited too. In a minute a handsome old man and a well-set-up young man turned the corner afoot. The younger man was leading a beautiful stag hound. The photographer touched his hat and said something, and the younger man smiling a good-natured smile, obligingly posed in the street for a picture. At this precise moment a dirigible balloon came careening over the chimneypots on a cross-London air jaunt; and at the sight of it the little crowd left the young man and the photographer and set off at a run to follow, as far as they might, the course of the balloon. Now in America this could not have occurred, for the balloon man would not have been aloft at such an hour. He would have been on the earth; moreover he would have been outside the walls of that mansion house, along with half a million, more or less, of his patriotic fellow countrymen, tearing his own clothes off and their clothes off, trampling the weak and sickly underfoot, bucking the doubled and tripled police lines in a mad, vain effort to see the flagpole on the roof or a corner of the rear garden wall. For that house was Clarence House, and the young man who posed so accommodatingly for the photographer was none other than Prince Arthur of Connaught, who was getting himself married the very next day.
The next day I beheld from a short distance the passing of the bridal procession. Though there were crowds all along the route followed by the wedding party, there was no scrouging, no shoving, no fighting, no disorderly scramble, no unseemly congestion about the chapel where the ceremony took place. It reminded me vividly of that which inevitably happens when a millionaire's daughter is being married to a duke in a fashionable Fifth Avenue church—it reminded me of that because it was so different.
Fortunately for us we were so placed that we saw quite distinctly the entrance of the wedding party into the chapel inclosure. Personally I was most concerned with the members of the royal house. As I recollect, they passed in the following order:
His Majesty, King George the Fifth. Her Majesty, Queen Mary, the Other Four Fifths. Small fractional royalties to the number of a dozen or more.
I got a clear view of the side face of the queen. As one looked on her profile, which was what you might call firm, and saw the mild-looking little king, who seemed quite eclipsed by her presence, one understood—or anyway one thought one understood—why an English assemblage, when standing to chant the national anthem these times, always puts such fervor and meaning into the first line of it.
Only one untoward incident occurred: The inevitable militant lady broke through the lines as the imperial carriage passed and threw a Votes for Women handbill into His Majesty's lap. She was removed thence by the police with the skill and dexterity of long practice. The police were competently on the job. They always are—which brings me round to the subject of the London bobby and leads me to venture the assertion that individually and collectively, personally and officially, he is a splendid piece of work. The finest thing in London is the London policeman and the worst thing is the shamefully small and shabby pay he gets. He is majestic because he represents the majesty of the English law; he is humble and obliging because, as a servant, he serves the people who make the law. And always he knows his business.
In Charing Cross, where all roads meet and snarl up in the bewildering semblance of many fishing worms in a can, I ventured out into the roadway to ask a policeman the best route for reaching a place in a somewhat obscure quarter. He threw up his arm, semaphore fashion, first to this point of the compass and then to that, and traffic halted instantly. As far as the eye might reach it halted; and it stayed halted, too, while he searched his mind and gave me carefully and painstakingly the directions for which I sought. In that packed mass of cabs and taxis and buses and carriages there were probably dukes and archbishops—dukes and archbishops are always fussing about in London—but they waited until he was through directing me. It flattered me so that I went back to the hotel and put on a larger hat. I sincerely hope there was at least one archbishop.
Another time we went to Paddington to take a train for somewhere. Following the custom of the country we took along our trunks and traps on top of the taxicab. At the moment of our arrival there were no porters handy, so a policeman on post outside the station jumped forward on the instant and helped our chauffeur to wrestle the luggage down on the bricks. When I, rallying somewhat from the shock of this, thanked him and slipped a coin into his palm, he said in effect that, though he was obliged for the shilling, I must not feel that I had to give him anything—that it was part of his duty to aid the public in these small matters. I shut my eyes and tried to imagine a New York policeman doing as much for an unknown alien; but the effort gave me a severe headache. It gave me darting pains across the top of the skull—at about the spot where he would probably have belted me with his club had I even dared to ask him to bear a hand with my baggage.
I had a peep into the workings of the system of which the London bobby is a spoke when I went to what is the very hub of the wheel of the common law—a police court. I understood then what gave the policeman in the street his authority and his dignity—and his humility—when I saw how carefully the magistrate on the bench weighed each trifling cause and each petty case; how surely he winnowed out the small grain of truth from the gross and tare of surmise and fiction; how particular he was to give of the abundant store of his patience to any whining ragpicker or street beggar who faced him, whether as defendant at the bar, or accuser, or witness.
It was the very body of the law, though, we saw a few days after this when by invitation we witnessed the procession at the opening of the high courts. Considered from the stand-points of picturesqueness and impressiveness it made one's pulses tingle when those thirty or forty men of the wig and ermine marched in single and double file down the loftily vaulted hall, with the Lord Chancellor in wig and robes of state leading, and Sir Rufus Isaacs, knee-breeched and sword-belted, a pace or two behind him; and then, in turn, the justices; and, going on ahead of them and following on behind them, knight escorts and ushers and clerks and all the other human cogs of the great machine. What struck into me deepest, however, was the look of nearly every one of the judges. Had they been dressed as longshoremen, one would still have known them for possessors of the judicial temperament—men born to hold the balances and fitted and trained to winnow out the wheat from the chaff. So many eagle-beaked noses, so many hawk-keen eyes, so many smooth-chopped, long-jowled faces, seen here together, made me think of what we are prone to regard as the highwater period of American statesmanship —the Clay-Calhoun-Benton-Webster period.
Just watching these men pass helped me to know better than any reading I had ever done why the English have faith and confidence in their courts. I said to myself that if I wanted justice—exact justice, heaping high in time scales—I should come to this shop and give my trade to the old-established firm; but if I were looking for a little mercy I should take my custom elsewhere.
I cannot tell why I associate it in my mind with this grouped spectacle of the lords of the law, but somehow the scene to be witnessed in Hyde Park just inside the Marble Arch of a Sunday evening seems bound up somehow with the other institution. They call this place London's safety valve. It's all of that. Long ago the ruling powers discovered that if the rabidly discontented were permitted to preach dynamite and destruction unlimited they would not be so apt to practice their cheerful doctrines. So, without let or hindrance, any apostle of any creed, cult or propaganda, however lurid and revolutionary, may come here of a Sunday to meet with his disciples and spout forth the faith that is in him until he has geysered himself into peace, or, what comes to the same thing, into speechlessness.
When I went to Hyde Park on a certain Sunday rain was falling and the crowds were not so large as usual, a bored policeman on duty in this outdoor forum told me; still, at that, there must have been two or three thousand listeners in sight and not less than twelve speakers. These latter balanced themselves on small portable platforms placed in rows, with such short spaces between them that their voices intermingled confusingly. In front of each orator stood his audience; sometimes they applauded what he said in a sluggish British way, and sometimes they asked him questions designed to baffle or perplex him—heckling, I believe this is called—but there was never any suggestion of disorder and never any violent demonstration for or against a statement made by him.
At the end of the line nearest the Arch, under a flary light, stood an old bearded man having the look on his face of a kindly but somewhat irritated moo-cow. At the moment I drew near he was having a long and involved argument with another controversialist touching on the sense of the word tabernacle as employed Scripturally, one holding it to mean the fleshly tenement of the soul and the other an actual place of worship. The old man had two favorite words—behoove and emit—but behoove was evidently his choice. As an emitter he was only fair, but he was the best behoover I ever saw anywhere.
The orator next to him was speaking in a soft, sentimental tone, with gestures gently appropriate. I moved along to him, being minded to learn what particular brand of brotherly love he might be expounding. In the same tone a good friend might employ in telling you what to do for chapped lips or a fever blister he was saying that clergymen and armaments were useless and expensive burdens on the commonwealth; and, as a remedy, he was advocating that all the priests and all the preachers in the kingdom should be loaded on all the dreadnoughts, and then the dreadnoughts should be steamed to the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean and there cozily scuttled, with all aboard.
There was scattering applause and a voice: "Ow, don't do that! Listen, 'ere! Hi've got a better plan." But the next speaker was blaring away at the top of his voice, making threatening faces and waving his clenched fists aloft and pounding with them on the top of his rostrum.
"Now this," I said to myself, "is going to be something worth while. Surely this person would not be content merely with drowning all the parsons and sinking all the warships in the hole at the bottom of the sea. Undoubtedly he will advocate something really radical. I will invest five minutes with him."
I did; but I was sold. He was favoring the immediate adoption of a universal tongue for all the peoples of the earth—that was all. I did not catch the name of his universal language, but I judged the one at which he would excel would be a language with few if any h's in it. After this disappointment I lost heart and came away.
Another phase, though a very different one, of the British spirit of fair play and tolerance, was shown to me at the National Sporting Club, which is the British shrine of boxing, where I saw a fight for one of the championship belts that Lord Lonsdale is forever bestowing on this or that worshipful fisticuffer. Instead of being inside the ring prying the fighters apart by main force as he would have been doing in America, the referee, dressed in evening clothes, was outside the ropes. At a snapped word from him the fighters broke apart from clinches on the instant. The audience—a very mixed one, ranging in garb from broadcloths to shoddies—was as quick to approve a telling blow by the less popular fighter as to hiss any suggestion of trickiness or fouling on the part of the favorite. When a contestant in one of the preliminary goes, having been adjudged a loser on points, objected to the decision and insisted on being heard in his own behalf, the crowd, though plainly not in sympathy with his contention, listened to what he had to say. Nobody jeered him down.
Had he been a foreigner and especially had he been an American I am inclined to think the situation might have been different. I seem to recall what happened once when a certain middleweight from this side went over there and broke the British heart by licking the British champion; and again what happened when a Yankee boy won the Marathon at the Olympic games in London a few years ago. But as this man was a Briton himself these other Britons harkened to his sputterings, for England, you know, grants the right of free speech to all Englishmen—and denies it to all Englishwomen.
The settled Englishman declines always to be jostled out of his hereditary state of intense calm. They tell of a man who dashed into the reading room of the Savage Club with the announcement that a lion was loose on the Strand—a lion that had escaped from a traveling caravan and was rushing madly to and fro, scaring horses and frightening pedestrians.
"Great excitement! Most terrific, old dears—on my word!" he added, addressing the company.
Over the top of the Pink Un an elderly gentleman of a full habit of life regarded him sourly.
"Is that any reason," he inquired, "why a person should rush into a gentleman's club and kick up such a deuced hullabaloo?"
The first man—he must have been a Colonial—gazed at the other man in amazement.
"Well," he asked, "what would you do if you met a savage lion loose on the Strand?"
"Sir, I should take a cab!"
And after meeting an Englishman or two of this type I am quite prepared to say the story might have been a true one. If he met a lion on the Strand to-day he would take a cab; but if to-morrow, walking in the same place, he met two lions, he would write a letter to the Times complaining of the growing prevalence of lions in the public thoroughfares and placing the blame on the Suffragettes or Lloyd George or the Nonconformists or the increasing discontent of the working classes—that is what he would do.
On the other hand, if he met a squirrel on a street in America it would be a most extraordinary thing. Extraordinary would undoubtedly be the word he would use to describe it. Lions on the Strand would be merely annoying, but chipmunks on Broadway would constitute a striking manifestation of the unsettled conditions existing in a wild and misgoverned land; for, you see, to every right-minded Englishman of the insular variety—and that is the commonest variety there is in England—whatever happens at home is but part of an orderly and an ordered scheme of things, whereas whatever happens beyond the British domains must necessarily be highly unusual and exceedingly disorganizing. If so be it happens on English soil he can excuse it. He always has an explanation or an extenuation handy. But if it happens elsewhere—well, there you are, you see! What was it somebody once called England—Perfidious Alibi-in', wasn't it? Anyhow that was what he meant. The party's intentions were good but his spelling was faulty.
An Englishman's newspapers help him to attain this frame of mind; for an English newspaper does not print sensational stories about Englishmen residing in England; it prints them about people resident in other lands. There is a good reason for this and the reason is based on prudence. In the first place the private life of a private individual is a most holy thing, with which the papers dare not meddle; besides, the paper that printed a faked-up tale about a private citizen in England would speedily be exposed and also extensively sued. As for public men, they are protected by exceedingly stringent libel laws. As nearly as I might judge, anything true you printed about an English politician would be libelous, and anything libelous you printed about him would be true.
It befalls, therefore, as I was told on most excellent authority, that when the editor of a live London daily finds the local grist to be dull and uninteresting reading he straightway cables to his American correspondent or his Paris correspondent—these two being his main standbys for sensations—asking, if his choice falls on the man in America, for a snappy dispatch, say, about an American train smash-up, or a Nature freak, or a scandal in high society with a rich man mixed up in it. He wires for it, and in reply he gets it. I have been in my time a country correspondent for city papers, and I know that what Mr. Editor wants Mr. Editor gets.
As a result America, to the provincial Englishman's understanding, is a land where a hunter is always being nibbled to death by sheep; or a prospective mother is being so badly frightened by a chameleon that her child is born with a complexion changeable at will and an ungovernable appetite for flies; or a billionaire is giving a monkey dinner or poisoning his wife, or something. Also, he gets the idea that a through train in this country is so called because it invariably runs through the train ahead of it; and that when a man in Connecticut is expecting a friend on the fast express from Boston, and wants something to remember him by, he goes down to the station at traintime with a bucket. Under the headlining system of the English newspapers the derailment of a work-train in Arizona, wherein several Mexican tracklayers get mussed up, becomes Another Frightful American Railway Disaster! But a head-on collision, attended by fatalities, in the suburbs of Liverpool or Manchester is a Distressing Suburban Iincident. Yet the official Blue Book, issued by the British Board of Trade, showed that in the three months ending March 31, 1913, 284 persons were killed and 2,457 were injured on railway lines in the United Kingdom.
Just as an English gentleman is the most modest person imaginable, and the most backward about offering lip-service in praise of his own achievements or his country's achievements, so, in the same superlative degree, some of his newspapers are the most blatant of boasters. About the time we were leaving England the job of remodeling and beautifying the front elevation of Buckingham Palace reached its conclusion, and a dinner was given to the workingmen who for some months had been engaged on the contract. It had been expected that the occasion would be graced by the presence of Their Majesties; but the king, as I recall, was pasting stamps in the new album the Czar of Russia sent him on his birthday, and the queen was looking through the files of Godey's Lady's Book for the year 1874, picking out suitable costumes for the ladies of her court to wear. At any rate they could not attend. Otherwise, though, the dinner must have been a success. Reading the account of it as published next morning in a London paper, I learned that some of the guests, "with rare British pluck," wore their caps and corduroys; that others, "with true British independence," smoked their pipes after dinner; that there was "real British beef" and "genuine British plum pudding" on the menu; and that repeatedly those present uttered "hearty British cheers." From top to bottom the column was studded thick with British thises and British thats.
Yet the editorial writers of that very paper are given to frequent and sneering attacks on the alleged yellowness and the boasting proclivities of the jingo Yankee sheets; also, they are prone to spasmodic attacks on the laxity of our marriage laws. Perhaps what they say of us is true; but for unadulterated nastiness I never saw anything in print to equal the front page of a so-called sporting weekly that circulates freely in London, and I know of nothing to compare with the brazen exhibition of a certain form of vice that is to be witnessed nightly in the balconies of two of London's largest music halls. It was upon the program of another London theater that I came across the advertisement of a lady styling herself "London's Woman Detective" and stating, in so many words, that her specialties were "Divorce Shadowings" and "Secret Inquiries." Maybe it is a fact that in certain of our states marriage is not so much a contract as a ninety-day option, but the lady detective who does divorce shadowing and advertises her qualifications publicly has not opened up her shop among us.
In the campaign to give the stay-at-home Englishman a strange conception of his American kinsman the press is ably assisted by the stage. In London I went to see a comedy written by a deservedly successful dramatist, and staged, I think, under his personal direction. The English characters in the play were whimsical and, as nearly as I might judge, true to the classes they purported to represent. There was an American character in this piece too—a multimillionaire, of course, and a collector of pictures—presumably a dramatically fair and realistic drawing of a wealthy, successful, art-loving American. I have forgotten now whether he was supposed to be one of our meaty Chicago millionaires, or one of our oily Cleveland millionaires, or one of our steely Pittsburgh millionaires, or just a plain millionaire from the country at large; and I doubt whether the man who wrote the lines had any conception when he did write them of the fashion in which they were afterward read. Be that as it may, the actor who essayed to play the American used an inflection, or an accent, or a dialect, or a jargon—or whatever you might choose to call it—which was partly of the oldtime drawly Wild Western school of expression and partly of the oldtime nasal Down East school. I had thought—and had hoped—that both these actor-created lingoes were happily obsolete; but in their full flower of perfection I now heard them here in London. Also, the actor who played the part interpreted the physical angles of the character in a manner to suggest a pleasing combination of Uncle Joshua Whitcomb, Mike the Bite, Jefferson Brick and Coal-Oil Johnny, with a suggestion of Jesse James interspersed here and there. True, he spat not on the carpet loudly, and he refrained from saying I vum! and Great Snakes!—quaint conceits that, I am told, every English actor who respected his art formally employed when wishful to type a stage American for an English audience; but he bragged loudly and emphatically of his money and of how he got it and of what he would do with it. I do not perceive why it is the English, who themselves so dearly love the dollar after it is translated into terms of pounds, shillings and pence, should insist on regarding us as a nation of dollar-grabbers, when they only see us in the act of freely dispensing the aforesaid dollar.
They do so regard us, though; and, with true British setness, I suppose they always will. Even so I think that, though they may dislike us as a nation, they like us as individuals; and it is certainly true that they seem to value us more highly than they value Colonials, as they call them—particularly Canadian Colonials. It would appear that your true Briton can never excuse another British subject for the shockingly poor taste he displayed in being born away from home. And, though in time he may forgive us for refusing to be licked by him, he can never forgive the Colonials for saving him from being licked in South Africa.
When I started in to write this chapter, I meant to conclude it with an apology for my audacity in undertaking—in any wise—to sum up the local characteristics of a country where I had tarried for so short a time, but I have changed my mind about that. I have merely borrowed a page from the book of rules of the British essayists and novelists who come over here to write us up. Why, bless your soul, I gave nearly eight weeks of time to the task of seeing Europe thoroughly, and, of those eight weeks, I spent upward of three weeks in and about London—indeed, a most unreasonably long time when measured by the standards of the Englishman of letters who does a book about us.
He has his itinerary all mapped out in advance. He will squander a whole week on us. We are scarcely worth it, but, such as we are, we shall have a week of his company! Landing on Monday morning, he will spend Monday in New York, Tuesday in San Francisco, and Wednesday in New Orleans. Thursday he will divide between Boston and Chicago, devoting the forenoon to one and the afternoon to the other. Friday morning he will range through the Rocky Mountains, and after luncheon, if he is not too fatigued, he will take a carriage and pop in on Yosemite Valley for an hour or so.
But Saturday—all of it—will be given over to the Far Southland. He is going 'way down South—to sunny South Dakota, in fact, to see the genuine native American darkies, the real Yankee blackamoors. Most interesting beings, the blackamoors! They live exclusively on poultry—fowls, you know—and all their women folk are named Honey Gal.
He will observe them in their hours of leisure, when, attired in their national costume, consisting of white duck breeches, banjos, and striped shirts with high collars, they gather beneath the rays of the silvery Southern moon to sing their tribal melodies on the melon-lined shores of the old Oswego; and by day he will study them at their customary employment as they climb from limb to limb of the cottonwood trees, picking cotton. On Sunday he will arrange and revise his notes, and on Monday morning he will sail for home.
Such is the program of Solomon Grundy, Esquire, the distinguished writing Englishman; but on his arrival he finds the country to be somewhat larger than he expected—larger actually than the Midlands. So he compromises by spending five days at a private hotel in New York, run by a very worthy and deserving Englishwoman of the middle classes, where one may get Yorkshire puddings every day; and two days more at a wealthy tufthunter's million-dollar cottage at Newport, studying the habits and idiosyncrasies of the common people. And then he rushes back to England and hurriedly embalms his impressions of us in a large volume, stating it to be his deliberate opinion that, though we mean well enough, we won't do —really. He necessarily has to hurry, because, you see, he has a contract to write a novel or a play—or both a novel and a play —with Lord Northcliffe as the central figure. In these days practically all English novels and most English comedies play up Lord Northcliffe as the central figure. Almost invariably the young English writer chooses him for the axis about which his plot shall revolve. English journalists who have been discharged from one of Northcliffe's publications make him their villian, and English journalists who hope to secure jobs on one of his publications make him their hero. The literature of a land is in perilous case when it depends on the personality of one man. One shudders to think what the future of English fiction would be should anything happen to his Lordship!
Business of shuddering!
During our scientific explorations in the Eastern Hemisphere, we met two guides who had served the late Samuel L. Clemens, one who had served the late J. Pierpont Morgan, and one who had acted as courier to ex-President Theodore Roosevelt. After inquiry among persons who were also lately abroad, I have come to the conclusion that my experience in this regard was remarkable, not because I met so many as four of the guides who had attended these distinguished Americans, but because I met so few as four of them. One man with whom I discussed the matter told of having encountered, in the course of a brief scurry across Europe, five members in good standing of the International Association of Former Guides to Mark Twain. All of them had union cards to prove it too. Others said that in practically every city of any size visited by them there was a guide who told of his deep attachment to the memory of Mr. Morgan, and described how Mr. Morgan had hired him without inquiring in advance what his rate for professional services a day would be; and how—lingering with wistful emphasis on the words along here and looking meaningly the while at the present patron—how very, very generous Mr. Morgan had been in bestowing gratuities on parting.
Our first experience with guides was at Westminster Abbey. As it happened, this guide was one of the Mark Twain survivors. I think, though, he was genuine; he had documents of apparent authenticity in his possession to help him in proving up his title. Anyhow, he knew his trade. He led us up and down those parts of the Abbey which are free to the general public and brought us finally to a wicket gate, opening on the royal chapels, which was as far as he could go. There he turned us over to a severe-looking dignitary in robes—an archbishop, I judged, or possibly only a canon—who, on payment by us of a shilling a head, escorted our party through the remaining inclosures, showing us the tombs of England's queens and kings, or a good many of them anyway; and the Black Prince's helmet and breastplate; and the exquisite chapel of Henry the Seventh, and the ancient chair on which all the kings sat for their coronations, with the famous Scotch Stone of Scone under it.
The chair itself was not particularly impressive. It was not nearly so rickety and decrepit as the chairs one sees in almost any London barber shop. Nor was my emotion particularly excited by the stone. I would engage to get a better-looking one out of the handiest rock quarry inside of twenty minutes. This stone should not be confused with the ordinary scones, which also come from Scotland and which are by some regarded as edible.
What did seem to us rather a queer thing was that the authorities of Westminster should make capital of the dead rulers of the realm and, except on certain days of the week, should charge an admission fee to their sepulchers. Later, on the Continent, we sustained an even more severe shock when we saw royal palaces—palaces that on occasion are used by the royal proprietors—with the quarters of the monarchs upstairs and downstairs novelty shops and tourist agencies and restaurants, and the like of that. I jotted down a few crisp notes concerning these matters, my intention being to comment on them as evidence of an incomprehensible thrift on the part of our European kins-people; but on second thought I decided to refrain from so doing. I recalled the fact that we ourselves are not entirely free from certain petty national economies. Abroad we house our embassies up back streets, next door to bird and animal stores; and at home there is many a public institution where the doormat says WELCOME! in large letters, but the soap is chained and the roller towel is padlocked to its little roller.
Guides are not particularly numerous in England. Even in the places most frequented by the sightseer they do not abound in any profusion. At Madame Tussaud's, for example, we found only one guide. We encountered him just after we had spent a mournful five minutes in contemplation of ex-President Taft. Friends and acquaintances of Mr. Taft will be shocked to note the great change in him when they see him here in wax. He does not weigh so much as he used to weigh by at least one hundred and fifty pounds; he has lost considerable height too; his hair has turned another color and his eyes also; his mustache is not a close fit any more, either; and he is wearing a suit of English-made clothes.
On leaving the sadly altered form of our former Chief Executive we descended a flight of stone steps leading to the Chamber of Horrors. This department was quite crowded with parents escorting their children about. Like America, England appears to be well stocked with parents who make a custom of taking their young and susceptible offspring to places where the young ones stand a good chance of being scared into connipshun fits. The official guide was in the Chamber of Horrors. He was piloting a large group of visitors about, but as soon as he saw our smaller party he left them and came directly to us; for they were Scotch and we were Americans, citizens of the happy land where tips come from. Undoubtedly that guide knew best.
With pride and pleasure he showed us a representative assortment of England's most popular and prominent murderers. The English dearly love a murderer. Perhaps that is because they have fewer murderers than we have, and have less luck than we do in keeping them alive and in good spirits to a ripe old age. Almost any American community of fair size can afford at least two murderers —one in jail, under sentence, receiving gifts of flowers and angel cake from kind ladies, and waiting for the court above to reverse the verdict in his case because the indictment was shy a comma; and the other out on bail, awaiting his time for going through the same procedure. But with the English it is different.
We rarely hang anybody who is anybody, and only occasionally make an issue of stretching the neck of the veriest nobody. They will hang almost anybody Haman-high, or even higher than that. They do not exactly hang their murderer before they catch him, but the two events occur in such close succession that one can readily understand why a confusion should have arisen in the public mind on these points. First of all, though, they catch him; and then some morning between ten and twelve they try him. This is a brief and businesslike formality. While the judge is looking in a drawer of his desk to see whether the black cap is handy the bailiffs shoo twelve tradesmen into the jury box. A tradesman is generally chosen for jury service because he is naturally anxious to get the thing over and hurry back to his shop before his helper goes to lunch. The judge tells the jurors to look on the prisoner, because he is going away shortly and is not expected back; so they take full advantage of the opportunity, realizing it to be their last chance. Then, in order to comply with the forms, the judge asks the accused whether he is guilty or not guilty, and the jurors promptly say he is. His Worship, concurring heartily, fixes the date of execution for the first Friday morning when the hangman has no other engagements. It is never necessary to postpone this event through failure of the condemned to be present. He is always there; there is no record of his having disappointed an audience. So, on the date named, rain or shine, he is hanged very thoroughly; but after the hanging is over they write songs and books about him and revere his memory forevermore.
Our guide was pleased to introduce us to the late Mr. Charles Pease, as done in paraffin, with creped hair and bright, shiny glass eyes. Mr. Pease was undoubtedly England's most fashionable murderer of the past century and his name is imperishably enshrined in the British affections. The guide spoke of his life and works with deep and sincere feeling. He also appeared to derive unfeigned pleasure from describing the accomplishments of another murderer, only slightly less famous than the late Mr. Pease. It seemed that this murderer, after slaying his victim, set to dismembering the body and boiling it. They boil nearly everything in England. But the police broke in on him and interrupted the job.
Our attention was directed to a large chart showing the form of the victim, the boiled portions being outlined in red and the unboiled portions in black. Considered as a murderer solely this particular murderer may have been deserving of his fame; but when it came to boiling, that was another matter. He showed poor judgment there. It all goes to show that a man should stick to his own trade and not try to follow two or more widely dissimilar callings at the same time. Sooner or later he is bound to slip up.
We found Stratford-upon-Avon to be the one town in England where guides are really abundant. There are as many guides in Stratford as there are historic spots. I started to say that there is at least one guide in Stratford for every American who goes there; but that would be stretching real facts, because nearly every American who goes to England manages to spend at least a day in Stratford, it being a spot very dear to his heart. The very name of it is associated with two of the most conspicuous figures in our literature. I refer first to Andrew Carnegie; second to William Shakspere. Shakspere, who wrote the books, was born here; but Carnegie, who built the libraries in which to keep the books, and who has done some writing himself, provided money for preserving and perpetuating the relics.
We met a guide in the ancient schoolhouse where the Bard—I am speaking now of William, not of Andrew—acquired the rudiments of his education; and on duty at the old village church was another guide, who for a price showed us the identical gravestone bearing the identical inscription which, reproduced in a design of burnt wood, is to-day to be found on the walls of every American household, however humble, whose members are wishful of imparting an artistic and literary atmosphere to their home. A third guide greeted us warmly when we drove to the cottage, a mile or two from the town, where the Hathaway family lived. Here we saw the high-backed settle on which Shakspere sat, night after night, wooing Anne Hathaway. I myself sat on it to test it. I should say that the wooing could not have been particularly good there, especially for a thin man. That settle had a very hard seat and history does not record that there was a cushion. Shakspere's affections for the lady must indeed have been steadfast. Or perhaps he was of stouter build than his pictures show him to have been.
Guides were scattered all over the birthplace house in Stratford in the ratio of one or more to each room. Downstairs a woman guide presided over a battery of glass cases containing personal belongings of Shakspere's and documents written by him and signed by him. It is conceded that he could write, but he certainly was a mighty poor speller. This has been a failing of many well-known writers. Chaucer was deficient in this regard; and if it were not for a feeling of personal modesty I could apply the illustration nearer home.
Two guides accompanied us as we climbed the stairs to the low-roofed room on the second floor where the creator of Shylock and Juliet was born—or was not born, if you believe what Ignatius Donnelly had to say on the subject. But would it not be interesting and valued information if we could only get the evidence on this point of old Mrs. Shakspere, who undoubtedly was present on the occasion? A member of our party, an American, ventured to remark as much to one of the guides; but the latter did not seem to understand him. So the American told him just to keep thinking it over at odd moments, and that he would be back again in a couple of years, if nothing happened, and possibly by that time the guide would have caught the drift of his observation. On second thought, later on, he decided to make it three years—he did not want to crowd the guide, he said, or put too great a burden on his mentality in a limited space of time.
If England harbors few guides the Continent is fairly glutted with them. After nightfall the boulevards of Paris are so choked with them that in places there is standing room only. In Rome the congestion is even greater. In Rome every other person is a guide —and sometimes twins. I do not know why, in thinking of Europe, I invariably associate the subject of guides with the subject of tips. The guides were no greedier for tips than the cabmen or the hotel helpers, or the railroad hands, or the populace at large. Nevertheless this is true. In my mind I am sure guides and tips will always be coupled, as surely as any of those standard team-word combinations of our language that are familiar to all; as firmly paired off as, for example, Castor and Pollux, or Damon and Pythias, or Fair and Warmer, or Hay and Feed. When I think of one I know I shall think of the other. Also I shall think of languages; but for that there is a reason.
Tipping—the giving of tips and the occasional avoidance of giving them—takes up a good deal of the tourist's time in Europe. At first reading the arrangement devised by the guidebooks, of setting aside ten per cent of one's bill for tipping purposes, seems a better plan and a less costly one than the indiscriminate American system of tipping for each small service at the time of its performance. The trouble is that this arrangement does not work out so well in actual practice as it sounds in theory. On the day of your departure you send for your hotel bill. You do not go to the desk and settle up there after the American fashion. If you have learned the ropes you order your room waiter to fetch your bill to you, and in the privacy of your apartment you pore over the formidable document wherein every small charge is fully specified, the whole concluding with an impressive array of items regarding which you have no prior recollection whatsoever. Considering the total, you put aside an additional ten per cent, calculated for division on the basis of so much for the waiter, so much for the boots, so much for the maid and the porter, and the cashier, and the rest of them. It is not necessary that you send for these persons in order to confer your farewell remembrances on them; they will be waiting for you in the hallways. No matter how early or late the hour of your leaving may be, you find them there in a long and serried rank.
You distribute bills and coins until your ten per cent is exhausted, and then you are pained to note that several servitors yet remain, lined up and all expectant, owners of strange faces that you do not recall ever having seen before, but who are now at hand with claims, real or imaginary, on your purse. Inasmuch as you have a deadly fear of being remembered afterward in this hotel as a piker, you continue to dip down and to fork over, and so by the time you reach the tail end of the procession your ten per cent has grown to twelve or fifteen per cent, or even more.
As regards the tipping of guides for their services, I hit on a fairly satisfactory plan, which I gladly reveal here for the benefit of my fellow man. I think it is a good idea to give the guide, on parting, about twice as much as you think he is entitled to, which will be about half as much as he expects. From this starting point you then work toward each other, you conceding a little from time to time, he abating a trifle here and there, until you have reached a happy compromise on a basis of fifty-fifty; and so you part in mutual good will.
The average American, on the eve of going to Europe, thinks of the European as speaking each his own language. He conceives of the Poles speaking Polar; of the Hollanders talking Hollandaise; of the Swiss as employing Schweitzer for ordinary conversations and yodeling when addressing friends at a distance; and so on. Such, however, is rarely the case. Nearly every person with whom one comes in contact in Europe appears to have fluent command of several tongues besides his or her own. It is true this does not apply to Italy, where the natives mainly stick to Italian; but then, Italian is not a language. It is a calisthenic.
Between Rome and Florence, our train stopped at a small way station in the mountains. As soon as the little locomotive had panted itself to a standstill the train hands, following their habit, piled off the cars and engaged in a tremendous confab with the assembled officials on the platform. Immediately all the loafers in sight drew cards. A drowsy hillsman, muffled to his back hair in a long brown cloak, and with buskins on his legs such as a stage bandit wears, was dozing against the wall. He looked as though he had stepped right out of a comic opera to add picturesqueness to the scene. He roused himself and joined in; so did a bearded party who, to judge by his uniform, was either a Knight of Pythias or a general in the army; so did all the rest of the crowd. In ten seconds they were jammed together in a hard knot, and going it on the high speed with the muffler off, fine white teeth shining, arms flying, shoulders shrugging, spinal columns writhing, mustaches rising and falling, legs wriggling, scalps and ears following suit. Feeding hour in the parrot cage at the zoo never produced anything like so noisy and animated a scene. In these parts acute hysteria is not a symptom; it is merely a state of mind.
A waiter in soiled habiliments hurried up, abandoning chances of trade at the prospect of something infinitely more exciting. He wanted to stick his oar into the argument. He had a few pregnant thoughts of his own craving utterance, you could tell that. But he was handicapped into a state of dumbness by the fact that he needed both arms to balance a tray of wine and sandwiches on his head. Merely using his voice in that company would not have counted. He stood it as long as he could, which was not very long, let me tell you. Then he slammed his tray down on the platform and, with one quick movement, jerked his coat sleeves back to his elbows, and inside thirty seconds he had the floor in both hands, as it were. He conversed mainly with the Australian crawl stroke, but once in a while switched to the Spencerian free-arm movement and occasionally introduced the Chautauqua salute with telling effect.
On the Continent guides, as a class, excel in the gift of tongues —guides and hotel concierges. The concierge at our hotel in Berlin was a big, upstanding chap, half Russian and half Swiss, and therefore qualified by his breeding to speak many languages; for the Russians are born with split tongues and can give cards and spades to any talking crow that ever lived; while the Swiss lag but little behind them in linguistic aptitude. It seemed such a pity that this man was not alive when the hands knocked off work on the Tower of Babel; he could have put the job through without extending himself. No matter what the nationality of a guest might be—and the guests were of many nationalities—he could talk with that guest in his own language or in any other language the guest might fancy. I myself was sorely tempted to try him on Coptic and early Aztec; but I held off. My Coptic is not what it once was; and, partly through disuse and partly through carelessness, I have allowed my command of early Aztec to fall off pretty badly these last few months.
All linguistic freakishness is not confined to the Continent. The English, who are popularly supposed to use the same language we ourselves use, sometimes speak with a mighty strange tongue. A great many of them do not speak English; they speak British, a very different thing. An Englishwoman of breeding has a wonderful speaking voice; as pure as a Boston woman's and more liquid; as soft as a Southern woman's and with more attention paid to the R's. But the Cockney type—Wowie! During a carriage ride in Florence with a mixed company of tourists I chanced to say something of a complimentary nature about something English, and a little London-bred woman spoke up and said: "Thenks! It's vurry naice of you to sezzo, 'm sure." Some of them talk like that—honestly they do!
Though Americo-English may not be an especially musical speech, it certainly does lend itself most admirably to slang purposes. Here again the Britishers show their inability to utilize the vehicle to the full of its possibilities. England never produced a Billy Baxter or a George Ade, and I am afraid she never will. Most of our slang means something; you hear a new slang phrase and instantly you realize that the genius who coined it has hit on a happy and a graphic and an illuminating expression; that at one bound he rose triumphant above the limitations of the language and tremendously enriched the working vocabulary of the man in the street. Whereas an Englishman's idea of slinging slang is to scoop up at random some inoffensive and well-meaning word that never did him any harm and apply it in the place of some other word, to which the first word is not related, even by marriage. And look how they deliberately mispronounce proper names. Everybody knows about Cholmondeley and St. John. But take the Scandinavian word fjord. Why, I ask you, should the English insist on pronouncing it Ferguson?
At Oxford, the seat of learning, Magdalen is pronounced Maudlin, probably in subtle tribute to the condition of the person who first pronounced it so. General-admission day is not the day you enter, but the day you leave. Full term means three-quarters of a term. An ordinary degree is a degree obtained by a special examination. An inspector of arts does not mean an inspector of arts, but a student; and from this point they go right ahead, getting worse all the time. The droll creature who compiled the Oxford glossary was a true Englishman.
When an Englishman undertakes to wrestle with American slang he makes a fearful hash of it. In an English magazine I read a short story, written by an Englishman who is regarded by a good many persons, competent to judge, as being the cleverest writer of English alive today. The story was beautifully done from the standpoint of composition; it bristled with flashing metaphors and whimsical phrasing. The scene of the yarn was supposed to be Chicago and naturally the principal figure in it was a millionaire. In one place the author has this person saying, "I reckon you'll feel pretty mean," and in another place, "I reckon I'm not a man with no pull."
Another character in the story says, "I know you don't cotton to the march of science in these matters," and speaks of something that is unusual as being "a rum affair." A walled state prison, presumably in Illinois, is referred to as a "convict camp"; and its warden is called a "governor" and an assistant keeper is called a "warder"; while a Chicago daily paper is quoted as saying that "larrikins" directed the attention of a policeman to a person who was doing thus and so.
The writer describes a "mysterious mere" known as Pilgrim's Pond, "in which they say"—a prison official is supposed to be talking now—"our fathers made witches walk until they sank." Descendants of the original Puritans who went from Plymouth Rock, in the summer of 1621, and founded Chicago, will recall this pond distinctly. Cotton Mather is buried on its far bank, and from there it is just ten minutes by trolley to Salem, Massachusetts. It is stated also in this story that the prairies begin a matter of thirty-odd miles from Chicago, and that to reach them one must first traverse a "perfect no man's land." Englewood and South Chicago papers please copy.
Getting back again to guides, I am reminded that our acquaintanceship with the second member of the Mark Twain brotherhood was staged in Paris. This gentleman wished himself on us one afternoon at the Hotel des Invalides. We did not engage him; he engaged us, doing the trick with such finesse and skill that before we realized it we had been retained to accompany him to various points of interest in and round Paris. However, we remained under his control one day only. At nightfall we wrested ourselves free and fled under cover of darkness to German soil, where we were comparatively safe.
I never knew a man who advanced so rapidly in a military way as he did during the course of that one day. Our own national guard could not hold a candle to him. He started out at ten A.M. by being an officer of volunteers in the Franco-Prussian War; but every time he slipped away and took a nip out of his private bottle, which was often, he advanced in rank automatically. Before the dusk of evening came he was a corps commander, who had been ennobled on the field of battle by the hand of Napoleon the Third.
He took us to Versailles. We did not particularly care to go to Versailles that day, because it was raining; but he insisted and we went. In spite of the drizzle we might have enjoyed that wonderful place had he not been constantly at our elbows, gabbling away steadily except when he excused himself for a moment and stepped behind a tree, to emerge a moment later wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Then he would return to us, with an added gimpiness in his elderly legs, an increased expansion of the chest inside his tight and shiny frock coat, and a fresh freight of richness on his breath, to report another deserved promotion.
After he had eaten luncheon—all except such portions of it as he spilled on himself—the colonel grew confidential and chummy. He tried to tell me an off-color story and forgot the point of it, if indeed it had any point. He began humming the Marseillaise hymn, but broke off to say he expected to live to see the day when a column of French troops, singing that air, would march up Unter den Linden to stack their arms in the halls of the Kaiser's palace. I did not take issue with him. Every man is entitled to his own wishes in those matters. But later on, when I had seen something of the Kaiser's standing army, I thought to myself that when the French troops did march up Unter den Linden they would find it tolerably rough sledding, and if there was any singing done a good many of them probably would not be able to join in the last verse.
Immediately following this, our conductor confided to me that he had once had the honor of serving Mr. Clemens, whom he referred to as Mick Twine. He told me things about Mr. Clemens of which I had never heard. I do not think Mr. Clemens ever heard of them either. Then the brigadier—it was now after three o'clock, and between three and three-thirty he was a brigadier—drew my arm within his.
"I, too, am an author," he stated. "It is not generally known, but I have written much. I wrote a book of which you may have heard— 'The Wandering Jew.'" And he tapped himself on the bosom proudly.
I said I had somehow contracted a notion that a party named Sue —Eugene Sue—had something to do with writing the work of that name.
"Ah, but you are right there, my friend," he said. "Sue wrote 'The Wandering Jew' the first time—as a novel, merely; but I wrote him much better—as a satire on the anti-Semitic movement."
I surrendered without offering to strike another blow and from that time on he had his own way with us. The day, as I was pleased to note at the time, had begun mercifully to draw to a close; we were driving back to Paris, and he, sitting on the front seat, had just attained the highest post in the army under the regime of the last Empire, when he said:
"Behold, m'sieur! We are now approaching a wine shop on the left. You were most gracious and kind in the matter of luncheon. Kindly permit me to do the honors now. It is a very good wine shop—I know it well. Shall we stop for a glass together, eh?"
It was the first time since we landed at Calais that a native-born person had offered to buy anything, and, being ever desirous to assist in the celebration of any truly notable occasion, I accepted and the car was stopped. We were at the portal of the wine shop, when he plucked at my sleeve, offering another suggestion:
"The chauffeur now—he is a worthy fellow, that chauffeur. Shall we not invite the chauffeur to join us?"
I was agreeable to that, too. So he called the chauffeur and the chauffeur disentangled his whiskers from the steering gear and came and joined us. The chauffeur and I each had a small glass of light wine, but the general took brandy. Then ensued a spirited dialogue between him and the woman who kept the shop. Assuming that I had no interest in the matter, I studied the pictures behind the bar. Presently, having reduced the woman to a state of comparative silence, he approached me.
"M'sieur," he said, "I regret that this has happened. Because you are a foreigner and because you know not our language, that woman would make an overcharge; but she forgot she had me to deal with. I am on guard! See her! She is now quelled! I have given her a lesson she will not soon forget. M'sieur, the correct amount of the bill is two-francs-ten. Give it to her and let us begone!"
I still have that guide's name and address in my possession. At parting he pressed his card on me and asked me to keep it; and I did keep it. I shall be glad to loan it to any American who may be thinking of going to Paris. With the card in his pocket, he will know exactly where this guide lives; and then, when he is in need of a guide he can carefully go elsewhere and hire a guide.
I almost failed to mention that before we parted he tried to induce us to buy something. He took us miles out of our way to a pottery and urged us to invest in its wares. This is the main purpose of every guide: to see that you buy something and afterward to collect his commission from the shopkeeper for having brought you to the shop. If you engage your guide through the porter at your hotel you will find that he steers you to the shops the hotel people have already recommended to you; but if you break the porter's heart by hiring your guide outside, independently, the guide steers you to the shops that are on his own private list.
Only once I saw a guide temporarily stumped, and that was in Venice. The skies were leaky that day and the weather was raw; and one of the ladies of the party wore pumps and silk stockings. For the protection of her ankles she decided to buy a pair of cloth gaiters; and, stating her intention, she started to go into a shop that dealt in those articles. The guide hesitated a moment only, then threw himself in her path. The shops hereabout were not to be trusted—the proprietors, without exception, were rogues and extortioners. If madame would have patience for a few brief moments he would guarantee that she got what she wanted at an honest price. He seemed so desirous of protecting her that she consented to wait.
In a minute, on a pretext, he excused himself and dived into one of the crooked ways that thread through all parts of Venice and make it possible for one who knows their windings to reach any part of the city without using the canals. Two of us secretly followed him. Beyond the first turning he dived into a shoe shop. Emerging after a while he hurried back and led the lady to that same shop, and stood by, smiling softly, while she was fitted with gaiters. Until now evidently gaiters had not been on his list, but he had taken steps to remedy this; and, though his commission on a pair of sixty-cent gaiters could not have been very large yet, as some philosopher has so truly said, every little bit added to what you have makes just a modicum more. Indeed, the guide never overlooks the smallest bet. His whole mentality is focused on getting you inside a shop. Once you are there, he stations himself close behind you, reenforcing the combined importunities of the shopkeeper and his assembled staff with gentle suggestions. The depths of self-abasement to which a shopkeeper in Europe will descend in an effort to sell his goods surpasses the power of description. The London tradesman goes pretty far in this direction. Often he goes as far as the sidewalk, clinging to the hem of your garment and begging you to return for one more look. But the Continentals are still worse.
A Parisian shopkeeper would sell you the bones of his revered grandmother if you wanted them and he had them in stock; and he would have them in stock too, because, as I have stated once before, a true Parisian never throws away anything he can save. I heard of just one single instance where a customer desirous of having an article and willing to pay the price failed to get it; and that, I would say, stands without a parallel in the annals of commerce and barter.
An American lady visiting her daughter, an art student in the Latin Quartier, was walking alone when she saw in a shop window a lace blouse she fancied. She went inside and by signs, since she knew no French, indicated that she wished to look at that blouse. The woman in charge shook her head, declining even to take the garment out of the window. Convinced now, womanlike, that this particular blouse was the blouse she desired above all other blouses the American woman opened her purse and indicated that she was prepared to buy at the shopwoman's own valuation, without the privilege of examination. The shopwoman showed deep pain at having to refuse the proposition, but refuse it she did; and the would-be buyer went home angry and perplexed and told her daughter what had happened.
"It certainly is strange," the daughter said. "I thought everything in Paris, except possibly Napoleon's tomb, was for sale. This thing will repay investigation. Wait until I pin my hat on. Does my nose need powdering?"
Her mother led her back to the shop of the blouse and then the puzzle was revealed. For it was the shop of a dry cleanser and the blouse belonged to some patron and was being displayed as a sample of the work done inside; but undoubtedly such a thing never before happened in Paris and probably never will happen again.
In Venice not only the guides and the hotel clerks and porters but even the simple gondolier has a secret understanding with all branches of the retail trade. You get into a long, snaky, black gondola and fee the beggar who pushes you off, and all the other beggars who have assisted in the pushing off or have merely contributed to the success of the operation by being present, and you tell your gondolier in your best Italian or your worst pidgin English where you wish to go. It may be you are bound for the Rialto; or for the Bridge of Sighs, which is chiefly distinguished from all the other bridges by being the only covered one in the lot; or for the house of the lady Desdemona. The lady Desdemona never lived there or anywhere else, but the house where she would have lived, had she lived, is on exhibition daily from nine to five, admission one lira. Or perchance you want to visit one of the ducal palaces that are so numerous in Venice. These palaces are still tenanted by the descendants of the original proprietors; one family has perhaps been living in one palace three or four hundred years. But now the family inhabits the top floor, doing light housekeeping up there, and the lower floor, where the art treasures, the tapestries and the family relics are, is in charge of a caretaker, who collects at the door and then leads you through.
Having given the boatman explicit directions you settle back in your cushion seat to enjoy the trip. You marvel how he, standing at the stern, with his single oar fitted into a shallow notch of his steering post, propels the craft so swiftly and guides it so surely by those short, twisting strokes of his. Really, you reflect, it is rowing by shorthand. You are feasting your eyes on the wonderful color effects and the groupings that so enthuse the artist, and which he generally manages to botch and boggle when he seeks to commit them to canvas; and betweenwhiles you are wondering why all the despondent cats in Venice should have picked out the Grand Canal as the most suitable place in which to commit suicide, when—bump!—your gondola swings up against the landing piles in front of a glass factory and the entire force of helpers rush out and seize you by your arms—or by your legs, if handier —and try to drag you inside, while the affable and accommodating gondolier boosts you from behind. You fight them off, declaring passionately that you are not in the market for colored glass at this time. The hired hands protest; and the gondolier, cheated out of his commission, sorrows greatly, but obeys your command to move on. At least he pretends to obey it; but a minute later he brings you up broadside at the water-level doors of a shop dealing in antiques, known appropriately as antichitas, or at a mosaic shop or a curio shop. If ever you do succeed in reaching your destination it is by the exercise of much profanity and great firmness of will.
The most insistent and pesky shopkeepers of all are those who hive in the ground floors of the professedly converted palaces that face on three sides of the Square of Saint Mark's. You dare not hesitate for the smallest fractional part of a second in front of a shop here. Lurking inside the open door is a husky puller-in; and he dashes out and grabs hold of you and will not let go, begging you in spaghettified English to come in and examine his unapproachable assortment of bargains. You are not compelled to buy, he tells you; he only wants you to gaze on his beautiful things. Believe him not! Venture inside and decline to purchase and he will think up new and subtle Italian forms of insult and insolence to visit on you. They will have brass bands out for you if you invest and brass knuckles if you do not.
There is but one way to escape from their everlasting persecutions, and that is to flee to the center of the square and enjoy the company of the pigeons and the photographers. They—the pigeons, I mean—belong to the oldest family in Venice; their lineage is of the purest and most undefiled. For upward of seven hundred years the authorities of the city have been feeding and protecting the pigeons, of which these countless blue-and-bronze flocks are the direct descendants. They are true aristocrats; and, like true aristocrats, they are content to live on the public funds and grow fat and sassy thereon, paying nothing in return.
No; I take that part back—they do pay something in return; a full measure. They pay by the beauty of their presence, and they are surely very beautiful, with their dainty mincing pink feet and the sheen on the proudly arched breast coverts of the cock birds; and they pay by giving you their trust and their friendship. To gobble the gifts of dried peas, which you buy in little cornucopias from convenient venders for distribution among them, they come wheeling in winged battalions, creaking and cooing, and alight on your head and shoulders in that perfect confidence which so delights humans when wild or half-wild creatures bestow it on us, though, at every opportunity, we do our level best to destroy it by hunting and harrying them to death.
At night, when the moon is up, is the time to visit this spot. Standing here, with the looming pile of the Doge's Palace bulked behind you, and the gorgeous but somewhat garish decorations of the great cathedral softened and soothed into perfection of outline and coloring by the half light, you can for the moment forget the fallen state of Venice, and your imagination peoples the splendid plaza for you with the ghosts of its dead and vanished greatnesses. You conceive of the place as it must have looked in those old, brave, wicked days, filled all with knights, with red-robed cardinals and clanking men at arms, with fair ladies and grave senators, slinking bravos and hired assassins—and all so gay with silk and satin and glittering steel and spangling gems.
By the eye of your mind you see His Illuminated Excellency, the frosted Christmas card, as he bows low before His Eminence, the pink Easter egg; you see, half hidden behind the shadowed columns of the long portico, an illustrated Sunday supplement in six colors bargaining with a stick of striped peppermint candy to have his best friend stabbed in the back before morning; you see giddy poster designs carrying on flirtations with hand-painted valentines; you catch the love-making, overhear the intriguing, and scent the plotting; you are an eyewitness to a slice out of the life of the most sinister, the most artistic, and the most murderous period of Italian history.
But by day imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay, stops a hole to keep the wind away; and the wild ass of the ninety-day tour stamps his heedless hoofs over the spot where sleeps the dust of departed grandeur. By day the chug of the motor boat routs out old sleepy echoes from cracked and crannied ruins; the burnished golden frescoes of Saint Mark's blare at you as with brazen trumpets; every third medieval church has been turned into a moving-picture place; and the shopkeeping parasites buzz about you in vermin swarms and bore holes in your pocketbook until it is all one large painful welt. The emblem of Venice is the winged lion. It should be the tapeworm.
In Rome it appears to be a standing rule that every authenticated guide shall be a violent Socialist and therefore rampingly anticlerical in all his views. We were in Rome during the season of pilgrimages. From all parts of Italy, from Bohemia and Hungary and Spain and Tyrol, and even from France, groups of peasants had come to Rome to worship in their mother church and be blessed by the supreme pontiff of their faith. At all hours of the day they were passing through the streets, bound for Saint Peter's or the Vatican, the women with kerchiefs over their heads, the men in their Sunday best, and all with badges and tokens on their breasts.
At the head of each straggling procession would be a black-frocked village priest, at once proud and humble, nervous and exalted. A man might be of any religion or of no religion at all, and yet I fail to see how he could watch, unmoved, the uplifted faces of these people as they clumped over the cobbles of the Holy City, praying as they went. Some of them had been saving up all their lives, I imagine, against the coming of this great day; but our guide—and we tried three different ones—never beheld this sight that he did not sneer at it; and not once did he fail to point out that most of the pilgrims were middle-aged or old, taking this as proof of his claim that the Church no longer kept its hold on the younger people, even among the peasant classes. The still more frequent spectacle of a marching line of students of one of the holy colleges, with each group wearing the distinctive insignia of its own country—purple robes or green sashes, or what not —would excite him to the verge of a spasm.
But then he was always verging on a spasm anyway—spasms were his normal state.
Our guide in Vienna was the most stupid human being I ever saw. He was profoundly ignorant on a tremendously wide range of subjects; he had a most complete repertoire of ignorance. He must have spent years of study to store up so much interesting misinformation. This guide was much addicted to indulgence of a peculiar form of twisted English and at odd moments given to the consumption of a delicacy of strictly Germanic origin, known in the language of the Teutons as a rollmops. A rollmops consists of a large dilled cucumber, with a pickled herring coiled round it ready to strike, in the design of the rattlesnake-and-pinetree flag of the Revolution, the motto in both instances being in effect: "Don't monkey with the buzz saw!" He carried his rollmops in his pocket and frequently, in art galleries or elsewhere, would draw it out and nibble it, while disseminating inaccuracies touching on pictures and statues and things.
Among other places, he took us to the oldest church in Vienna. As I now recollect it was six hundred years old. No; on second thought I will say it must have been older than that. No church could possibly become so moldy and mangy looking as that church in only six hundred years. The object in this church that interested me most was contained in an ornate glass case placed near the altar and alongside the relics held to be sacred. It did not exactly please me to gaze at this article; but the thing had a fascination for me; I will not deny that.
It seems that a couple of centuries ago there was an officer in Vienna, a captain in rank and a Frenchman by birth, who, in the midst of disorders and licentiousness, lived so godly and so sanctified a life that his soldiers took it into their heads that he was really a saint, or at least had the making of a first-rate saint in him, and, therefore, must lead a charmed life. So—thus runs the tale—some of them laid a wager with certain Doubting Thomases, also soldiers, that neither by fire nor water, neither by rope nor poison, could he take harm to himself. Finally they decided on fire for the test. So they waited until he slept—those simple, honest, chuckle-headed chaps—and then they slipped in with a lighted torch and touched him off.
Well, sir, the joke certainly was on those soldiers. He burned up with all the spontaneous enthusiasm of a celluloid comb. For qualities of instantaneous combustion he must have been the equal of any small-town theater that ever was built—with one exit. He was practically a total loss and there was no insurance.
They still have him, or what is left of him, in that glass case. He did not exactly suffer martyrdom—though probably he personally did not notice any very great difference—and so he has not been canonized; nevertheless, they have him there in that church. In all Europe I only saw one sight to match him, and that was down in the crypt under the Church of the Capuchins, in Rome, where the dissected cadavers of four thousand dead—but not gone—monks are worked up into decorations. There are altars made of their skulls, and chandeliers made of their thigh bones; frescoes of their spines; mosaics of their teeth and dried muscles; cozy corners of their femurs and pelves and tibiae. There are two classes of travelers I would strongly advise not to visit the crypt of the Capuchins' Church—those who are just about to have dinner and want to have it, and those who have just had dinner and want to keep on having it.
At the royal palace in Vienna we saw the finest, largest, and gaudiest collection of crown jewels extant. That guide of ours seemed to think he had done his whole duty toward us and could call it a day and knock off when he led us up to the jewel collections, where each case was surrounded by pop-eyed American tourists taking on flesh at the sight of all those sparklers and figuring up the grand total of their valuation in dollars, on the basis of so many hundreds of carats at so many hundred dollars a carat, until reason tottered on her throne—and did not have so very far to totter, either.
The display or all those gems, however, did not especially excite me. There were too many of them and they were too large. A blue Kimberley in a hotel clerk's shirtfront or a pigeonblood ruby on a faro dealer's little finger might hold my attention and win my admiration; but where jewels are piled up in heaps like anthracite in a coal bin they thrill me no more than the anthracite would. A quart measure of diamonds of the average size of a big hailstone does not make me think of diamonds but of hailstones. I could remain as calm in their presence as I should in the presence of a quart of cracked ice; in fact, calmer than I should remain in the presence of a quart of cracked ice in Italy, say, where there is not that much ice, cracked or otherwise. In Italy a bucketful of ice would be worth traveling miles to see. You could sell tickets for it.
In one of the smaller rooms of the palace we came on a casket containing a necklace of great smoldering rubies and a pair of bracelets to match. They were as big as cranberries and as red as blood—as red as arterial blood. And when, on consulting the guidebook, we read the history of those rubies the sight of them brought a picture to our minds, for they had been a part of the wedding dowry of Marie Antoinette. Once on a time this necklace had spanned the slender white throat that was later to be sheared by the guillotine, and these bracelets had clasped the same white wrists that were roped together with an ell of hangman's hemp on the day the desolated queen rode, in her patched and shabby gown, to the Place de la Revolution.
I had seen paintings in plenty and read descriptions galore of that last ride of the Widow Capet going to her death in the tumbril, with the priest at her side and her poor, fettered arms twisted behind her, and her white face bared to the jeers of the mob; but the physical presence of those precious useless baubles, which had cost so much and yet had bought so little for her, made more vivid to me than any picture or anystory the most sublime tragedy of The Terror—the tragedy of those two bound hands.
It is naturally a fine thing for one, and gratifying, to acquire a thorough art education. Personally I do not in the least regret the time I gave and the study I devoted to acquiring mine. I regard those two weeks as having been well spent.
I shall not do it soon again, however, for now I know all about art. Let others who have not enjoyed my advantages take up this study. Let others scour the art galleries of Europe seeking masterpieces. All of them contain masterpieces and most of them need scouring. As for me and mine, we shall go elsewhere. I love my art, but I am not fanatical on the subject. There is another side of my nature to which an appeal may be made. I can take my Old Masters or I can leave them be. That is the way I am organized—I have self-control.
I shall not deny that the earlier stages of my art education were fraught with agreeable little surprises. Not soon shall I forget the flush of satisfaction which ran through me on learning that this man Dore's name was pronounced like the first two notes in the music scale, instead of like a Cape Cod fishing boat. And lingering in my mind as a fragrant memory is the day when I first discovered that Spagnoletto was neither a musical instrument nor something to be served au gratin and eaten with a fork. Such acquirements as these are very precious to me.
But for the time being I have had enough. At this hour of writing I feel that I am stocked up with enough of Bouguereau's sorrel ladies and Titian's chestnut ones and Rubens' bay ones and Velasquez's pintos to last me, at a conservative estimate, for about seventy-five years. I am too young as a theatergoer to recall much about Lydia Thompson's Blondes, but I have seen sufficient of Botticelli's to do me amply well for a spell. I am still willing to walk a good distance to gaze on one of Rembrandt's portraits of one of his kinfolks, though I must say he certainly did have a lot of mighty homely relatives; and any time there is a first-rate Millet or Corot or Meissonier in the neighborhood I wish somebody would drop me a line, giving the address. As for pictures by Tintoretto, showing Venetian Doges hobnobbing informally with members of the Holy Family, and Raphael's angels, and Michelangelo's lost souls, and Guidos, and Murillos, I have had enough to do me for months and months and months. Nor am I in the market for any of the dead fish of the Flemish school. Judging by what I have observed, practically all the Flemish painters were devout churchmen and painted their pictures on Friday.
There was just one drawback to my complete enjoyment of that part of our European travels we devoted to art. We would go to an art gallery, hire a guide and start through. Presently I would come to a picture that struck me as being distinctly worth while. To my untutored conceptions it possessed unlimited beauty. There was, it seemed to me, life in the figures, reality in the colors, grace in the grouping. And then, just when I was beginning really to enjoy it, the guide would come and snatch me away.
He would tell me the picture I thought I admired was of no account whatsoever—that the artist who painted it had not yet been dead long enough to give his work any permanent value; and he would drag me off to look at a cracked and crumbling canvas depicting a collection of saints of lacquered complexions and hardwood expressions, with cast-iron trees standing up against cotton batting clouds in the background, and a few extra halos floating round indiscriminately, like sun dogs on a showery day, and, up above, the family entrance into heaven hospitably ajar; and he would command me to bask my soul in this magnificent example of real art and not waste time on inconsequential and trivial things. Guides have the same idea of an artist that a Chinaman entertains for an egg. A fresh egg or a fresh artist will not do. It must have the perfume of antiquity behind it to make it attractive.
At the Louvre, in Paris, on the first day of the two we spent there, we had for our guide a tall, educated Prussian, who had an air about him of being an ex-officer of the army. All over the Continent you are constantly running into men engaged in all manner of legitimate and dubious callings, who somehow impress you as having served in the army of some other country than the one in which you find them. After this man had been chaperoning us about for some hours and we had stopped to rest, he told a good story. It may not have been true—it has been my experience that very few good stories are true; but it served aptly to illustrate a certain type of American tourist numerously encountered abroad.
"There were two of them," he said in his excellent English, "a gentleman and his wife; and from what I saw of them I judged them to be very wealthy. They were interested in seeing only such things as had been recommended by the guidebook. The husband would tell me they desired to see such and such a picture or statue. I would escort them to it and they would glance at it indifferently, and the gentleman would take out his lead pencil and check off that particular object in the book; and then he would say: 'All right—we've seen that; now let's find out what we want to look at next.' We still serve a good many people like that—not so many as formerly, but still a good many.
"Finally I decided to try a little scheme of my own. I wanted to see whether I could really win their admiration for something. I picked out a medium-size painting of no particular importance and, pointing to it, said impressively: 'Here, m'sieur, is a picture worth a million dollars—without the frame!'
"'What's that?' he demanded excitedly. Then he called to his wife, who had strayed ahead a few steps. 'Henrietta,' he said, 'come back here—you're missing something. There's a picture there that's worth a million dollars—and without the frame, too, mind you!'
"She came hurrying back and for ten minutes they stood there drinking in that picture. Every second they discovered new and subtle beauties in it. I could hardly induce them to go on for the rest of the tour, and the next day they came back for another soul-feast in front of it."
Later along, that guide confided to me that in his opinion I had a keen appreciation of art, much keener than the average lay tourist. The compliment went straight to my head. It was seeking the point of least resistance, I suppose. I branched out and undertook to discuss art matters with him on a more familiar basis. It was a mistake; but before I realized that it was a mistake I was out in the undertow sixty yards from shore, going down for the third time, with a low gurgling cry. He did not put out to save me, either; he left me to sink in the heaving and abysmal sea of my own fathomless ignorance. He just stood there and let me drown. It was a cruel thing, for which I can never forgive him.
In my own defense let me say, however, that this fatal indiscretion was committed before I had completed my art education. It was after we had gone from France to Germany, and to Austria, and to Italy, that I learned the great lesson about art—which is that whenever and wherever you meet a picture that seems to you reasonably lifelike it is nine times in ten of no consequence whatsoever; and, unless you are willing to be regarded as a mere ignoramus, you should straightway leave it and go and find some ancient picture of a group of overdressed clothing dummies masquerading as angels or martyrs, and stand before that one and carry on regardless.
When in doubt, look up a picture of Saint Sebastian. You never experience any difficulty in finding him—he is always represented as wearing very few clothes, being shot full of arrows to such an extent that clothes would not fit him anyway. Or else seek out Saint Laurence, who is invariably featured in connection with a gridiron; or Saint Bartholomew, who, you remember, achieved canonization through a process of flaying, and is therefore shown with his skin folded neatly and carried over his arm like a spring overcoat.
Following this routine you make no mistakes. Everybody is bound to accept you as one possessing a deep knowledge of art, and not mere surface art either, but the innermost meanings and conceptions of art. Only sometimes I did get to wishing that the Old Masters had left a little more to the imagination. They never withheld any of the painful particulars. It seemed to me they cheapened the glorious end of those immortal fathers of the faith by including the details of the martyrdom in every picture. Still, I would not have that admission get out and obtain general circulation. It might be used against me as an argument that my artistic education was grounded on a false foundation.
It was in Rome, while we were doing the Vatican, that our guide furnished us with a sight that, considered as a human experience, was worth more to me than a year of Old Masters and Young Messers. We had pushed our poor blistered feet—a dozen or more of us—past miles of paintings and sculptures and relics and art objects, and we were tired—oh, so tired! Our eyes ached and our shoes hurt us; and the calves of our legs quivered as we trailed along from gallery to corridor, and from corridor back to gallery.
We had visited the Sistine Chapel; and, such was our weariness, we had even declined to become excited over Michelangelo's great picture of the Last Judgment. I was disappointed, too, that he had omitted to include in his collection of damned souls a number of persons I had confidently and happily expected would be present. I saw no one there even remotely resembling my conception of the person who first originated and promulgated the doctrine that all small children should be told at the earliest possible moment that there is no Santa Claus. That was a very severe blow to me, because I had always believed that the descent to eternal perdition would be incomplete unless he had a front seat. And the man who first hit on the plan of employing child labor on night shifts in cotton factories—he was unaccountably absent too. And likewise the original inventor of the toy pistol; in fact the absentees were entirely too numerous to suit me. There was one thing, though, to be said in praise of Michelangelo's Last Judgment; it was too large and too complicated to be reproduced successfully on a souvenir postal card; and I think we should all be very grateful for that mercy anyway.
As I was saying, we had left the Sistine Chapel a mile or so behind us and had dragged our exhausted frames as far as an arched upper portico in a wing of the great palace, overlooking a paved courtyard inclosed at its farther end by a side wall of Saint Peter's. We saw, in another portico similar to the one where we had halted and running parallel to it, long rows of peasants, all kneeling and all with their faces turned in the same direction.
"Wait here a minute," said our guide. "I think you will see something not included in the regular itinerary of the day."
So we waited. In a minute or two the long lines of kneeling peasants raised a hymn; the sound of it came to us in quavering snatches. Through the aisle formed by their bodies a procession passed the length of the long portico and back to the starting point. First came Swiss Guards in their gay piebald uniforms, carrying strange-looking pikes and halberds; and behind them were churchly dignitaries, all bared of head; and last of all came a very old and very feeble man, dressed in white, with a wide-brimmed white hat—and he had white hair and a white face, which seemed drawn and worn, but very gentle and kindly and beneficent.
He held his right arm aloft, with the first two fingers extended in the gesture of the apostolic benediction. He was so far away from us that in perspective his profile was reduced to the miniature proportions of a head on a postage stamp; but, all the same, the lines of it stood out clear and distinct. It was his Holiness, Pope Pius the Tenth, blessing a pilgrimage.
All the guides in Rome follow a regular routine with the tourist. First, of course, they steer you into certain shops in the hope that you will buy something and thereby enable them to earn commissions. Then, in turn, they carry you to an art gallery, to a church, and to a palace, with stops at other shops interspersed between; and invariably they wind up in the vicinity of some of the ruins. Ruins is a Roman guide's middle name; ruins are his one best bet. In Rome I saw ruins until I was one myself.
We devoted practically an entire day to ruins. That was the day we drove out the Appian Way, glorious in legend and tale, but not quite so all-fired glorious when you are reeling over its rough and rutted pavement in an elderly and indisposed open carriage, behind a pair of half-broken Roman-nosed horses which insist on walking on their hind legs whenever they tire of going on four. The Appian Way, as at present constituted, is a considerable disappointment. For long stretches it runs between high stone walls, broken at intervals by gate-ways, where votive lamps burn before small shrines, and by the tombs of such illustrious dead as Seneca and the Horatii and the Curiatii. At more frequent intervals are small wine groggeries. Being built mainly of Italian marble, which is the most enduring and the most unyielding substance to be found in all Italy—except a linen collar that has been starched in an Italian laundry—the tombs are in a pretty fair state of preservation; but the inns, without exception, stand most desperately in need of immediate repairing.
A cow in Italy is known by the company she keeps; she rambles about, in and out of the open parlor of the wayside inn, mingling freely with the patrons and the members of the proprietor's household. Along the Appian Way a cow never seems to care whom she runs with; and the same is true of the domestic fowls and the family donkey. A donkey will spend his day in the doorway of a wine shop when he might just as well be enjoying the more sanitary and less crowded surroundings of a stable. It only goes to show what an ass a donkey is.
Anon, as the fancy writers say, we skirted one of the many wrecked aqueducts that go looping across country to the distant hills, like great stone straddlebugs. In the vicinity of Rome you are rarely out of sight of one of these aqueducts. The ancient Roman rulers, you know, curried the favor of the populace by opening baths. A modern ruler could win undying popularity by closing up a few.
We slowed up at the Circus of Romulus and found it a very sad circus, as such things go—no elevated stage, no hippodrome track, no centerpole, no trapeze, and only one ring. P. T. Barnum would have been ashamed to own it. A broken wall, following the lines of an irregular oval; a cabbage patch where the arena had been; and various tumble-down farmsheds built into the shattered masonry —this was the Circus of Romulus. However, it was not the circus of the original Romulus, but of a degenerate successor of the same name who rose suddenly and fell abruptly after the Christian era was well begun. Old John J. Romulus would not have stood for that circus a minute.
No ride on the Appian Way is regarded as complete without half an hour's stop at the Catacombs of Saint Calixtus; so we stopped. Guided by a brown Trappist, and all of us bearing twisted tapers in our hands, we descended by stone steps deep under the skin of the earth and wandered through dim, dank underground passages, where thousands of early Christians had lived and hid, and held clandestine worship before rude stone altars, and had died and been buried—died in a highly unpleasant fashion, some of them.
The experience was impressive, but malarial. Coming away from there I had an argument with a fellow American. He said that if we had these Catacombs in America we should undoubtedly enlarge them and put in band stands and lunch places, and altogether make them more attractive for picnic parties and Sunday excursionists. I contended, on the other hand, that if they were in America the authorities would close them up and protect the moldered bones of those early Christians from the vulgar gaze and prying fingers of every impious relic hunter who might come along. The dispute rose higher and grew warmer until I offered to bet him fifty dollars that I was right and he was wrong. He took me up promptly—he had sporting instincts; I'll say that for him—and we shook hands on it then and there to bind the wager. I expect to win that bet.
We had turned off the Appian Way and were crossing a corner of that unutterably hideous stretch of tortured and distorted waste known as the Campagna, which goes tumbling away to the blue Alban Mountains, when we came on the scene of an accident. A two-wheeled mule cart, proceeding along a crossroad, with the driver asleep in his canopied seat, had been hit by a speeding automobile and knocked galley-west. The automobile had sped on—so we were excitedly informed by some other tourists who had witnessed the collision—leaving the wreckage bottom side up in the ditch. The mule was on her back, all entangled in the twisted ruination of her gaudy gear, kicking out in that restrained and genteel fashion in which a mule always kicks when she is desirous of protesting against existing conditions, but is wishful not to damage herself while so doing. The tourists, aided by half a dozen peasants, had dragged the driver out from beneath the heavy cart and had carried him to a pile of mucky straw beneath the eaves of a stable. He was stretched full length on his back, senseless and deathly pale under the smeared grime on his face. There was no blood; but inside his torn shirt his chest had a caved-in look, as though the ribs had been crushed flat, and he seemed not to breathe at all. Only his fingers moved. They kept twitching, as though his life was running out of him through his finger ends. One felt that if he would but grip his hands he might stay its flight and hold it in.
Just as we jumped out of our carriage a young peasant woman, who had been bending over the injured man, set up a shrill outcry, which was instantly answered from behind us; and looking round we saw, running through the bare fields, a great, bulksome old woman, with her arms outspread and her face set in a tragic shape, shrieking as she sped toward us in her ungainly wallowing course. She was the injured man's mother, we judged—or possibly his grandmother.
There was nothing we could do for the human victim. Our guides, having questioned the assembled natives, told us there was no hospital to which he might be taken and that a neighborhood physician had already been sent for. So, having no desire to look on the grief of his mother—if she was his mother—a young Austrian and I turned our attention to the neglected mule. We felt that we could at least render a little first aid there. We had our pocket-knives out and were slashing away at the twisted maze of ropes and straps that bound the brute down between the shafts, when a particularly shrill chorus of shrieks checked us. We stood up and faced about, figuring that the poor devil on the muck heap had died and that his people were bemoaning his death. That was not it at all. The entire group, including the fat old woman, were screaming at us and shaking their clenched fists at us, warning us not to damage that harness with our knives. Feeling ran high, and threatened to run higher.
So, having no desire to be mobbed on the spot, we desisted and put up our knives; and after a while we got back into our carriage and drove on, leaving the capsized mule still belly-up in the debris, lashing out carefully with her skinned legs at the trappings that bound her; and the driver was still prone on the dunghill, with his fingers twitching more feebly now, as though the life had almost entirely fled out of him—a grim little tragedy set in the edge of a wide and aching desolation! We never found out his name or learned how he fared—whether he lived or died, and if he died how long he lived before he died. It is a puzzle which will always lie unanswered at the back of my mind, and I know that in odd moments it will return to torment me. I will bet one thing, though—nobody else tried to cut that mule out of her harness.
In the chill late afternoon of a Roman day the guides brought us back to the city and took us down into the Roman Forum, which is in a hollow instead of being up on a hill as most folks imagine it to be until they go to Rome and see it; and we finished up the day at the Golden House of Nero, hard by the vast ruins of the Coliseum. We had already visited the Forum once; so this time we did not stay long; just long enough for some ambitious pickpocket to get a wallet out of my hip pocket while I was pushing forward with a flock of other human sheep for a better look at the ruined portico wherein Mark Antony stood when he delivered his justly popular funeral oration over the body of the murdered Caesar. I never did admire the character of Mark Antony with any degree of extravagance, and since this experience I have felt actually bitter toward him.
The guidebooks say that no visitor to Rome should miss seeing the Golden House of Nero. When a guidebook tries to be humorous it only succeeds in being foolish. Practical jokes are out of place in a guidebook anyway. Imagine a large, old-fashioned brick smokehouse, which has been struck by lightning, burned to the roots and buried in the wreckage, and the site used as a pasture land for goats for a great many years; imagine the debris as having been dug out subsequently until a few of the foundation lines are visible; surround the whole with distressingly homely buildings of a modern aspect, and stir in a miscellaneous seasoning of beggars and loafers and souvenir venders—and you have the Golden House where Nero meant to round out a life already replete with incident and abounding in romance, but was deterred from so doing by reason of being cut down in the midst of his activities at a comparatively early age.
In the presence of the Golden House of Nero I did my level best to recreate before my mind's eye the scenes that had been enacted here once on a time. I tried to picture this moldy, knee-high wall, as a great glittering palace; and yonder broken roadbed as a splendid Roman highway; and these American-looking tenements on the surrounding hills as the marble dwellings of the emperors; and all the broken pillars and shattered porticoes in the distance as arches of triumph and temples of the gods. I tried to convert the clustering mendicants into barbarian prisoners clanking by, chained at wrist and neck and ankle; I sought to imagine the pestersome flower venders as being vestal virgins; the two unkempt policemen who loafed nearby, as centurions of the guard; the passing populace as grave senators in snowy togas; the flaunting underwear on the many clotheslines as silken banners and gilded trappings. I could not make it. I tried until I was lame in both legs and my back was strained. It was no go.
If I had been a poet or a historian, or a person full of Chianti, I presume I might have done it; but I am no poet and I had not been drinking. All I could think of was that the guide on my left had eaten too much garlic and that the guide on my right had not eaten enough. So in self-defense I went away and ate a few strands of garlic myself; for I had learned the great lesson of the proverb:
When in Rome be an aroma!
When I reached Pompeii the situation was different. I could conjure up an illusion there—the biggest, most vivid illusion I have been privileged to harbor since I was a small boy. It was worth spending four days in Naples for the sake of spending half a day in Pompeii; and if you know Naples you will readily understand what a high compliment that is for Pompeii.
To reach Pompeii from Naples we followed a somewhat roundabout route; and that trip was distinctly worth while too. It provided a most pleasing foretaste of what was to come. Once we had cleared the packed and festering suburbs, we went flanking across a terminal vertebra of the mountain range that sprawls lengthwise of the land of Italy, like a great spiny-backed crocodile sunning itself, with its tail in the Tyrrhenian Sea and its snout in the Piedmonts; and when we had done this we came out on a highway that skirted the bay.
There were gaps in the hills, through which we caught glimpses of the city, lying miles away in its natural amphitheater; and at that distance we could revel in its picturesqueness and forget its bouquet of weird stenches. We could even forget that the automobile we had hired for the excursion had one foot in the grave and several of its most important vital organs in the repair shop. I reckon that was the first automobile built. No; I take that back. It never was a first—it must have been a second to start with.
I once owned a half interest in a sick automobile. It was one of those old-fashioned, late Victorian automobiles, cut princesse style, with a plaquette in the back; and it looked like a cross between a fiat-bed job press and a tailor's goose. It broke down so easily and was towed in so often by more powerful machines that every time a big car passed it on the road it stopped right where it was and nickered. Of a morning we would start out in that car filled with high hopes and bright anticipations, but eventide would find us returning homeward close behind a bigger automobile, in a relationship strongly suggestive of the one pictured in the well-known Nature Group entitled: "Mother Hippo, With Young." We refused an offer of four hundred dollars for that machine. It had more than four hundred dollars' worth of things the matter with it.
The car we chartered at Naples for our trip to Pompeii reminded me very strongly of that other car of which I was part owner. Between them there was a strong family resemblance, not alone in looks but in deportment also. For patient endurance of manifold ills, for an inexhaustible capacity in developing new and distressing symptoms at critical moments, for cheerful willingness to play foal to some other car's dam, they might have been colts out of the same litter. Nevertheless, between intervals of breaking down and starting up again, and being helped along by friendly passer-by automobiles, we enjoyed the ride from Naples. We enjoyed every inch of it.
Part of the way we skirted the hobs of the great witches' caldron of Vesuvius. On this day the resident demons must have been stirring their brew with special enthusiasm, for the smoky smudge which always wreathes its lips had increased to a great billowy plume that lay along the naked flanges of the devil mountain for miles and miles. Now we would go puffing and panting through some small outlying environ of the city. Always the principal products of such a village seemed to be young babies and macaroni drying in the sun. I am still reasonably fond of babies, but I date my loss of appetite for imported macaroni from that hour. Now we would emerge on a rocky headland and below us would be the sea, eternally young and dimpling like a maiden's cheek; but the crags above were eternally old and all gashed with wrinkles and seamed with folds, like the jowls of an ancient squaw. Then for a distance we would run right along the face of the cliff. Directly beneath us we could see little stone huts of fishermen clinging to the rocks just above high-water mark, like so many gray limpets; and then, looking up, we would catch a glimpse of the vineyards, tucked into man-made terraces along the upper cliffs, like bundled herbs on the pantry shelves of a thrifty housewife; and still higher up there would be orange groves and lemon groves and dusty-gray olive groves. Each succeeding picture was Byzantine in its coloring. Always the sea was molten blue enamel, and the far-away villages seemed crafty inlays of mosaic work; and the sun was a disk of hammered Grecian gold.
A man from San Francisco was sharing the car with us, and he came right out and said that if he were sure heaven would be as beautiful as the Bay of Naples, he would change all his plans and arrange to go there. He said he might decide to go there anyhow, because heaven was a place he had always heard very highly spoken of. And I agreed with him.
The sun was slipping down the western sky and was laced with red like a bloodshot eye, with a Jacob's Ladder of rainbow shafts streaming down from it to the water, when we turned inland; and after several small minor stops, while the automobile caught its breath and had the heaves and the asthma, we came to Pompeii over a road built of volcanic rock. I have always been glad that we went there on a day when visitors were few. The very solitude of the place aided the mind in the task of repeopling the empty streets of that dead city by the sea with the life that was hers nearly two thousand years ago. Herculaneum will always be buried, so the scientists say, for Herculaneum was snuggled close up under Vesuvius, and the hissing-hot lava came down in waves; and first it slugged the doomed town to death and then slagged it over with impenetrable, flint-hard deposits. Pompeii, though, lay farther away, and was entombed in dust and ashes only; so that it has been comparatively easy to unearth it and make it whole again. Even so, after one hundred and sixty-odd years of more or less desultory explorations, nearly a third of its supposed area is yet to be excavated.
It was in the year 1592 that an architect named Fontana, in cutting an aqueduct which was to convey the waters of the Sarno to Torre dell' Annunziata, discovered the foundations of the Temple of Isis, which stood near the walls on the inner or land side of the ancient city. It was at first supposed that he had dug into an isolated villa of some rich Roman; and it was not until 1748 that prying archaeologists hit on the truth and induced the Government to send a chain gang of convicts to dig away the accumulations of earth and tufa. But if it had been a modern Italian city that was buried, no such mistake in preliminary diagnosis could have occurred. Anybody would have known it instantly by the smell. I do not vouch for the dates—I copied them out of the guidebook; but my experience with Italian cities qualifies me to speak with authority regarding the other matter.
Afoot we entered Pompeii by the restored Marine Gate. Our first step within the walls was at the Museum, a comparatively modern building, but containing a fairly complete assortment of the relics that from time to time have been disinterred in various quarters of the city. Here are wall cabinets filled with tools, ornaments, utensils, jewelry, furniture—all the small things that fulfilled everyday functions in the first century of the Christian era. Here is a kit of surgical implements, and some of the implements might well belong to a modern hospital. There are foodstuffs —grains and fruits; wines and oil; loaves of bread baked in 79 A. D. and left in the abandoned ovens; and a cheese that is still in a fair state of preservation. It had been buried seventeen hundred years when they found it; and if only it had been permitted to remain buried a few years longer it would have been sufficiently ripe to satisfy a Bavarian, I think.
Grimmer exhibits are displayed in cases stretched along the center of the main hall—models of dead bodies discovered in the ruins and perfectly restored by pouring a bronze composition into the molds that were left in the hardened pumice after the flesh of these victims had turned to dust and their bones had crumbled to powder. Huddled together are the forms of a mother and a babe; and you see how, with her last conscious thought, the mother tried to cover her baby's face from the killing rain of dust and blistering ashes. And there is the shape of a man who wrapped his face in a veil to keep out the fumes, and died so. The veil is there, reproduced with a fidelity no sculptor could duplicate, and through its folds you may behold the agony that made his jaw to sag and his eyes to pop from their sockets.
Nearby is a dog, which in its last spasms of pain and fright curled up worm fashion, and buried its nose in its forepaws and kicked out with its crooked hind legs. Plainly dogs do not change their emotional natures with the passage of years. A dog died in Pompeii in 79 A. D. after exactly the same fashion that a dog might die to-day in the pound at Pittsburgh.
From here we went on into the city proper; and it was a whole city, set off by itself and not surrounded by those jarring modern incongruities that spoil the ruins of Rome for the person who wishes to give his fancy a slack rein. It is all here, looking much as it must have looked when Nero and Caligula reigned, and much as it will still look hundreds of years hence, for the Government owns it now and guards it and protects it from the hammer of the vandal and the greed of the casual collector. Here it is—all of it; the tragic theater and the comic theater; the basilica; the greater forum and the lesser one; the market place; the amphitheater for the games; the training school for the gladiators; the temples; the baths; the villas of the rich; the huts of the poor; the cubicles of the slaves; shops; offices; workrooms; brothels.
The roofs are gone, except in a few instances where they have been restored; but the walls stand and many of the detached pillars stand too; and the pavements have endured well, so that the streets remain almost exactly as they were when this was a city of live beings instead of a tomb of dead memories, with deep groovings of chariot wheels in the flaggings, and at each crossing there are stepping stones, dotting the roadbed like punctuation marks. At the public fountain the well curbs are worn away where the women rested their water jugs while they swapped the gossip of the town; and at nearly every corner is a groggery, which in its appointments and fixtures is so amazingly like unto a family liquor store as we know it that, venturing into one, I caught myself looking about for the Business Men's Lunch, with a collection of greasy forks in a glass receptacle, a crock of pretzels on the counter, and a sign over the bar reading: No Checks Cashed—This Means You!
In the floors the mosaics are as fresh as though newly applied; and the ribald and libelous Latin, which disappointed litigants carved on the stones at the back of the law court, looks as though it might have been scored there last week—certainly not further back than the week before that. A great many of the wall paintings in the interiors of rich men's homes have been preserved and some of them are fairly spicy as to subject and text. It would seem that in these matters the ancient Pompeiians were pretty nearly as broad-minded and liberal as the modern Parisians are. The mural decorations I saw in certain villas were almost suggestive enough to be acceptable matter for publication in a French comic paper; almost, but not quite. Mr. Anthony Comstock would be an unhappy man were he turned loose in Pompeii—unhappy for a spell, but after that exceedingly busy.
We lingered on, looking and marveling, and betweenwhiles wondering whether our automobile's hacking cough had got any better by resting, until the sun went down and the twilight came. Following the guidebook's advice we had seen the Colosseum in Rome by moonlight. There was a full moon on the night we went there. It came heaving up grandly, a great, round-faced, full-cream, curdy moon, rich with rennet and yellow with butter fats; but by the time we had worked our way south to Naples a greedy fortnight had bitten it quite away, until it was reduced to a mere cheese rind of a moon, set up on end against the delft-blue platter of a perfect sky. We waited until it showed its thin rim in the heavens, and then, in the softened half-glow, with the purplish shadows deepening between the brown-gray walls of the dead city, I just naturally turned my imagination loose and let her soar.
Standing there, with the stage set and the light effects just right, in fancy I repopulated Pompeii. I beheld it just as it was on a fair, autumnal morning in 79 A. D. With my eyes half closed, I can see the vision now. At first the crowds are massed and mingled in confusion, but soon figures detach themselves from the rest and reveal themselves as prominent personages. Some of them I know at a glance. Yon tall, imposing man, with the genuine imitation sealskin collar on his toga, who strides along so majestically, whisking his cane against his leg, can be no other than Gum Tragacanth, leading man of the Bon Ton Stock Company, fresh from his metropolitan triumphs in Rome and at this moment the reigning matinee idol of the South. This week he is playing Claude Melnotte in The Lady of Lyons; next week he will be seen in his celebrated characterization of Matthias in The Bells, with special scenery; and for the regular Wednesday and Saturday bargain matinees Lady Audley's Secret will be given.
Observe him closely. It is evident that he values his art. Yet about him there is no false ostentation. With what gracious condescension does he acknowledge the half-timid, half-daring smiles of all the little caramel-chewing Floras and Faunas who have made it a point to be on Main Street at this hour! With what careless grace does he doff his laurel wreath, which is of the latest and most modish fall block, with the bow at the back, in response to the waved greeting of Mrs. Belladonna Capsicum, the acknowledged leader of the artistic and Bohemian set, as she sweeps by in her chariot bound for Blumberg Brothers' to do a little shopping. She is not going to buy anything—she is merely out shopping.
Than this fair patrician dame, none is more prominent in the gay life of Pompeii. It was she who last season smoked a cigarette in public, and there is a report now that she is seriously considering wearing an ankle bracelet; withal she is a perfect lady and belongs to one of the old Southern families. Her husband has been through the bankruptcy courts twice and is thinking of going through again. At present he is engaged in promoting and writing a little life insurance on the side.
Now her equipage is lost in the throng and the great actor continues on his way, making a mental note of the fact that he has promised to attend her next Sunday afternoon studio tea. Near his own stage door he bumps into Commodious Rotunda, the stout comedian of the comic theater, and they pause to swap the latest Lambs' Club repartee. This done, Commodius hauls out a press clipping and would read it, but the other remembers providentially that he has a rehearshal on and hurriedly departs. If there are any press clippings to be read he has a few of his own that will bear inspection.
Superior Maxillary, managing editor of the Pompeiian "Daily News-Courier," is also abroad, collecting items of interest and subscriptions for his paper, with preference given to the latter. He enters the Last Chance Saloon down at the foot of the street and in a minute or two is out again, wiping his mustache on the back of his hand. We may safely opine that he has been taking a small ad. out in trade.
At the door of the county courthouse, where he may intercept the taxpayers as they come and go, is stationed our old friend, Colonel Pro Bono Publico. The Colonel has been running for something or other ever since Heck was a pup. To-day he is wearing his official campaign smile, for he is a candidate for county judge, subject to the action of the Republican party at the October primaries. He is wearing all his lodge buttons and likewise his G. A. R. pin, for this year he figures on carrying the old-soldier vote.
See who comes now! It is Rigor Mortis, the worthy coroner. At sight of him the Colonel uplifts his voice in hoarsely jovial salutation:
"Rigsy, my boy," he booms, "how are you? And how is Mrs. M. this morning?"
"Well, Colonel," answers his friend, "my wife ain't no better. She's mighty puny and complaining. Sometimes I get to wishing the old lady would get well—or something!"
The Colonel laughs, but not loudly. That wheeze was old in 79. In front of the drug-store on the corner a score of young bloods, dressed in snappy togas for Varsity men, are skylarking. They are especially brilliant in their flashing interchanges of wit and humor, because the Mastodon Minstrels were here only last week, with a new line of first-part jokes. Along the opposite side of the street passes Nux Vomica, M.D., with a small black case in his hand, gravely intent on his professional duties. Being a young physician, he wears a beard and large-rimmed eyeglasses. Young Ossius Dome sees him and hails him.
"Oh, Doc!" he calls out. "Come over here a minute. I've got some brand-new limerickii for you. Tertiary Tonsillitis got 'em from a traveling man he met day before yesterday when he was up in the city laying in his stock of fall and winter armor."
The healer of ills crosses over; and as the group push themselves in toward a common center I hear the voice of the speaker:
"Say, they're all bully; but this is the bullissimus one of the lot. It goes like this:
"'There was a young maid of Sorrento, Who said to her—'"
I have regretted ever since that at this juncture I came to and so failed to get the rest of it. I'll bet that was a peach of a limerick. It started off so promisingly.
It now devolves on me as a painful yet necessary duty to topple from its pedestal one of the most popular idols of legendary lore. I refer, I regret to say, to the widely famous Roman sentry of old Pompeii.
Personally I think there has been entirely too much of this sort of thing going on lately. Muckrakers, prying into the storied past, have destroyed one after another many of the pet characters in history. Thanks to their meddlesome activities we know that Paul Revere did not take any midnight ride. On the night in question he was laid up in bed with inflammatory rheumatism. What happened was that he told the news to Mrs. Revere as a secret, and she in strict confidence imparted it to the lady living next door; and from that point on the word traveled with the rapidity of wildfire.
Horatius never held the bridge; he just let the blamed thing go. The boy did not stand on the burning deck, whence all but him had fled; he was among the first in the lifeboats. That other boy —the Spartan youth—did not have his vitals gnawed by a fox; the Spartan youth had been eating wild grapes and washing them down with spring water. Hence that gnawing sensation of which so much mention has been made. Nobody hit Billy Patterson. He acquired his black eye in the same way in which all married men acquire a black eye—by running against a doorjamb while trying to find the ice-water pitcher in the dark. He said so himself the next day.
Even Barbara Frietchie is an exploded myth. She did not nail her country's flag to the window casement. Being a female, she could not nail a flag or anything else to a window. In the first place, she would have used a wad of chewing gum and a couple of hairpins. In the second place, had she recklessly undertaken to nail up a flag with hammer and nails, she would never have been on hand at the psychological moment to invite Stonewall Jackson to shoot her old gray head. When General Jackson passed the house she would have been in the bathroom bathing her left thumb in witch-hazel.
Furthermore, she did not have any old gray head. At the time of the Confederate invasion of Maryland she was only seventeen years old—some authorities say only seven—and a pronounced blonde. Also, she did not live in Frederick; and even if she did live there, on the occasion when the troops went through she was in Baltimore visiting a school friend. Finally, Frederick does not stand where it stood in the sixties. The cyclone of 1884 moved it three miles back into the country and twisted the streets round in such a manner as to confuse even lifelong residents. These facts have repeatedly been proved by volunteer investigators and are not to be gainsaid.
I repeat that there has been too much of this. If the craze for smashing all our romantic fixtures persists, after a while we shall have no glorious traditions left with which to fire the youthful heart at high-school commencements. But in the interests of truth, and also because I made the discovery myself, I feel it to be my solemn duty to expose the Roman sentry, stationed at the gate of Pompeii looking toward the sea, who died because he would not quit his post without orders and had no orders to quit.
Until now this party has stood the acid test of centuries. Everybody who ever wrote about the fall of Pompeii, from Plutarch and Pliny the Younger clear down to Bulwer Lytton and Burton Holmes, had something to say about him. The lines on this subject by the Greek poet Laryngitis are familiar to all lovers of that great master of classic verse, and I shall not undertake to quote from them here.
Suffice it to say that the Roman sentry, perishing at his post, has ever been a favorite subject for historic and romantic writers. I myself often read of him—how on that dread day when the devil's stew came to a boil and spewed over the sides of Vesuvius, and death and destruction poured down to blight the land, he, typifying fortitude and discipline and unfaltering devotion, stood firm and stayed fast while all about him chaos reigned and fathers forgot their children and husbands forgot their wives, and vice versa, though probably not to the same extent; and how finally the drifting ashes and the choking dust fell thicker upon him and mounted higher about him, until he died and in time turned to ashes himself, leaving only a void in the solidified slag. I had always admired that soldier—not his judgment, which was faulty, but his heroism, which was immense. To myself I used to say:
"That unknown common soldier, nameless though he was, deserves to live forever in the memory of mankind. He lacked imagination, it is true, but he was game. It was a glorious death to die—painful, yet splendid. Those four poor wretches whose shells were found in the prison under the gladiators' school, with their ankles fast in the iron stocks—I know why they stayed. Their feet were too large for their own good. But no bonds except his dauntless will bound him at the portals of the doomed city. Duty was the only chain that held him.
"And to think that centuries and centuries afterward they should find his monument—a vacant, empty mold in the piled-up pumice! Had I been in his place I should have created my vacancy much sooner—say, about thirty seconds after the first alarm went in. But he was one who chose rather that men should say, 'How natural he looks!' than 'Yonder he goes!' And he has my sincere admiration. When I go to Pompeii—if ever I do go there—I shall seek out the spot where he made the supremest sacrifice to authority that ever any man could make, and I shall tarry a while in those hallowed precincts!"
That was what I said I would do and that was what I did do that afternoon at Pompeii. I found the gate looking toward the sea and I found all the other gates, or the sites of them; but I did not find the Roman sentry nor any trace of him, nor any authentic record of him. I questioned the guides and, through an interpreter, the curator of the Museum, and from them I learned the lamentably disillusioning facts in this case. There is no trace of him because he neglected to leave any trace.
Doubtless there was a sentry on guard at the gate when the volcano belched forth, and the skin of the earth flinched and shivered and split asunder; but he did not remain for the finish. He said to himself that this was no place for a minister's son; and so he girded up his loins and he went away from there.
He went away hurriedly—even as you and I.
Wherever we went I was constantly on the outlook for a kind of tourist who had been described to me frequently and at great length by more seasoned travelers—the kind who wore his country's flag as a buttonhole emblem, or as a shirtfront decoration; and regarded every gathering and every halting place as providing suitable opportunity to state for the benefit of all who might be concerned, how immensely and overpoweringly superior in all particulars was the land from which he hailed as compared with all other lands under the sun. I desired most earnestly to overhaul a typical example of this species, my intention then being to decoy him off to some quiet and secluded spot and there destroy him in the hope of cutting down the breed.
At length, along toward the fag end of our zigzagging course, I caught up with him; but stayed my hand and slew not. For some countries, you understand, are so finicky in the matter of protecting their citizens that they would protect even such a one as this. I was fearful lest, by exterminating the object of my homicidal desires, I should bring on international complications with a friendly Power, no matter however public-spirited and high-minded my intentions might be.
It was in Vienna, in a cafe, and the hour was late. We were just leaving, after having listened for some hours to a Hungarian band playing waltz tunes and an assemblage of natives drinking beer, when the sounds of a dispute at the booth where wraps were checked turned our faces in that direction. In a thick and plushy voice a short square person of a highly vulgar aspect was arguing with the young woman who had charge of the check room. Judging by his tones, you would have said that the nap of his tongue was at least a quarter of an inch long; and he punctuated his remarks with hiccoughs. It seemed that his excitement had to do with the disappearance of a neck-muffler. From argument he progressed rapidly to threats and the pounding of a fist upon the counter.
Drawing nigh, I observed that he wore a very high hat and a very short sack coat; that his waistcoat was of a combustible plaid pattern with gaiters to match; that he had taken his fingers many times to the jeweler, but not once to the manicure; that he was beautifully jingled and alcoholically boastful of his native land and that—a crowning touch—he wore flaring from an upper pocket of his coat a silk handkerchief woven in the design and colors of his country's flag. But, praises be, it was not our flag that he wore thus. It was the Union Jack. As we passed out into the damp Viennese midnight he was loudly proclaiming that he "Was'h Bri'sh subjesch," and that unless something was done mighty quick, would complain to "Is Majeshy's rep(hic)shenativ' ver' firsch thing 'n morn'."
So though I was sorry he was a cousin, I was selfishly and unfeignedly glad that he was not a brother. Since in the mysterious and unfathomable scheme of creation it seemed necessary that he should be born somewhere, still he had not been born in America, and that thought was very pleasing to me.
There was another variety of the tourist breed whose trail I most earnestly desired to cross. I refer to the creature who must be closely watched to prevent him, or her, from carrying off valuable relics as souvenirs, and defacing monuments and statues and disfiguring holy places with an inconsequential signature. In the flesh—and such a person must be all flesh and no soul—I never caught up with him, but more than once I came upon his fresh spoor.
In Venice our guide took us to see the nether prisons of the Palace of the Doges. From the level of the Bridge of Sighs we tramped down flights of stone stairs, one flight after another, until we had passed the hole through which the bodies of state prisoners, secretly killed at night, were shoved out into waiting gondolas and had passed also the room where pincers and thumbscrew once did their hideous work, until we came to a cellar of innermost, deepermost cells, fashioned out of the solid rock and stretching along a corridor that was almost as dark as the cells themselves. Here, so we were told, countless wretched beings, awaiting the tardy pleasure of the torturer or the headsman, had moldered in damp and filth and pitchy blackness, knowing day from night only by the fact that once in twenty-four hours food would be slipped through a hole in the wall by unseen hands; lying here until oftentimes death or the cruel mercy of madness came upon them before the overworked executioner found time to rack their limbs or lop off their heads.
We were told that two of these cells had been preserved exactly as they were in the days of the Doges, with no alteration except that lights had been swung from the ceilings. We could well accept this statement as the truth, for when the guide led us through a low doorway and flashed on an electric bulb we saw that the place where we stood was round like a jug and bare as an empty jug, with smooth stone walls and rough stone floor; and that it contained for furniture just two things—a stone bench upon which the captive might lie or sit and, let into the wall, a great iron ring, to which his chains were made fast so that he moved always to their grating accompaniment and the guard listening outside might know by the telltale clanking whether the entombed man still lived.
There was one other decoration in this hole—a thing more incongruous even than the modern lighting fixtures; and this stood out in bold black lettering upon the low-sloped ceiling. A pair of vandals, a man and wife—no doubt with infinite pains—had smuggled in brush and marking pot and somehow or other—I suspect by bribing guides and guards—had found the coveted opportunity of inscribing their names here in the Doges' black dungeon. With their names they had written their address too, which was a small town in the Northwest, and after it the legend: "Send us a postal card."
I imagine that then this couple, having accomplished this feat, regarded their trip to Europe as being rounded out and complete, and went home again, satisfied and rejoicing. Send them a postal card? Somebody should send them a deep-dish poison-pie!
Looking on this desecration my companion and I grew vocal. We agreed that our national lawgivers who were even then framing an immigration law with a view to keeping certain people out of this country, might better be engaged in framing one with a view to keeping certain people in. Our guide harkened with a quiet little smile on his face to what we said.
"It cannot have been here long—that writing on the ceiling," he explained for our benefit." Presently it will be scraped away. But"— and he shrugged his eloquent Italian shoulders and outspread his hands fan-fashion—"but what is the use? Others like them will come and do as they have done. See here and here and here, if you please!"
He aimed a darting forefinger this way and that, and looking where he pointed we saw now how the walls were scarred with the scribbled names of many visitors. I regret exceedingly to have to report that a majority of these names had an American sound to them. Indeed, many of the signatures were coupled with the names of towns and states of the Union. There were quite a few from Canada, too. What, I ask you, is the wisdom of taking steps to discourage the cutworm and abate the gypsy-moth when our government permits these two-legged varmints to go abroad freely and pollute shrines and wonderplaces with their scratchings, and give the nations over there a perverted notion of what the real human beings on this continent are like?
For the tourist who has wearied of picture galleries and battlegrounds and ruins and abbeys, studying other tourists provides a pleasant way of passing many an otherwise tedious hour. Certain of the European countries furnish some interesting types—notably Britain, which producing a male biped of a lachrymose and cheerless exterior, who plods solemnly across the Continent wrapped in the plaid mantle of his own dignity, never speaking an unnecessary word to any person whatsoever. And Germany: From Germany comes a stolid gentleman, who, usually, is shaped like a pickle mounted on legs and is so extensively and convexedly eyeglassed as to give him the appearance of something that is about to be served sous cloche. Caparisoned in strange garments, he stalks through France or Italy with an umbrella under his arm, his nose being buried so deeply in his guidebook that he has no time to waste upon the scenery or the people; while some ten paces in the rear, his wife staggers along in his wake with her skirts dragging in the dust and her arms pulled half out of their sockets by the weight of the heavy bundles and bags she is bearing. This person, when traveling, always takes his wife and much baggage with him. Or, rather, he takes his wife and she takes the baggage which, by Continental standards, is regarded as an equal division of burdens.
However, for variety and individual peculiarity, our own land offers the largest assortment in the tourist line, this perhaps being due to the fact that Americans do more traveling than any other race. I think that in our ramblings we must have encountered pretty nearly all the known species of tourists, ranging from sane and sensible persons who had come to Europe to see and to learn and to study, clear on down through various ramifications to those who had left their homes and firesides to be uncomfortable and unhappy in far lands merely because somebody told them they ought to travel abroad. They were in Europe for the reason that so many people run to a fire: not because they care particularly for a fire but because so many others are running to it. I would that I had the time, and you, kind reader, the patience so that I might enumerate and describe in full detail all the varieties and sub-varieties of our race that we saw—the pert, overfed, overpampered children, the aggressive, self-sufficient, prematurely bored young girls, the money-fattened, boastful vulgarians, scattering coin by the handful, intent only on making a show and not realizing that they themselves were the show; the coltish, pimply youths who thought in order to be high-spirited they must also be impolite and noisy. Youth will be served, but why, I ask you—why must it so often be served raw? For contrasts to such as these, we met plenty of people worth meeting and worth knowing—fine, attractive, well-bred American men and women, having a decent regard for themselves and for other folks, too. Indeed this sort largely predominated. But there isn't space for making a classified list. The one-volume chronicler must content himself with picking out a few particularly striking types.
I remember, with vivid distinctness, two individuals, one an elderly gentleman from somewhere in the Middle West and the other, an old lady who plainly hailed from the South. We met the old gentleman in Paris, and the old lady some weeks later in Naples. Though the weather was moderately warm in Paris that week he wore red woolen wristlets down over his hands; and he wore also celluloid cuffs, which rattled musically, with very large moss agate buttons in them; and for ornamentation his watch chain bore a flat watch key, a secret order badge big enough to serve as a hitching weight and a peach-stone carved to look like a fruit basket. Everything about him suggested health underwear, chewing tobacco and fried mush for breakfast. His whiskers were cut after a pattern I had not seen in years and years. In my mind such whiskers were associated with those happy and long distant days of childhood when we yelled Supe! at a stagehand and cherished Old Cap Collier as a model of what—if we had luck—we would be when we grew up. By rights, he belonged in the second act of a rural Indian play, of a generation or two ago; but here he was, wandering disconsolately through the Louvre. He had come over to spend four months, he told us with a heave of the breath, and he still had two months of it unspent, and he just didn't see how he was going to live through it!
The old lady was in the great National Museum at Naples, fluttering about like a distracted little brown hen. She was looking for the Farnese Bull. It seemed her niece in Knoxville had told her the Farnese Bull was the finest thing in the statuary line to be found in all Italy, and until she had seen that, she wasn't going to see anything else. She had got herself separated from the rest of her party and she was wandering along about alone, seeking information regarding the whereabouts of the Farnese Bull from smiling but uncomprehending custodians and doorkeepers. These persons she would address at the top of her voice. Plainly she suffered from a delusion, which is very common among our people, that if a foreigner does not understand you when addressed in an ordinary tone, he will surely get your meaning if you screech at him. When we had gone some distance farther on and were in another gallery, we could still catch the calliope-like notes of the little old lady, as she besought some one to lead her to the Farnese Bull.
That she came right out and spoke of the Farnese Bull as a bull, instead of referring to him as a gentleman cow, was evidence of the extent to which travel had enlarged her vision, for with half an eye anyone could tell that she belonged to the period of our social development when certain honest and innocent words were supposed to be indelicate—that she had been reared in a society whose ideal of a perfect lady was one who could say limb, without thinking leg. I hope she found her bull, but I imagine she was disappointed when she did find it. I know I was. The sculpturing may be of a very high order—the authorities agree that it is—but I judge the two artists to whom the group is attributed carved the bull last and ran out of material and so skimped him a bit. The unfortunate Dirce, who is about to be bound to his horns by the sons of Antiope, the latter standing by to see that the boys make a good thorough job of it, is larger really than the bull. You can picture the lady carrying off the bull but not the bull carrying off the lady.
Numerously encountered are the tourists who are doing Europe under a time limit as exact as the schedule of a limited train. They go through Europe on the dead run, being intent on seeing it all and therefore seeing none of it. They cover ten countries in a space of time which a sane person gives to one; after which they return home exhausted, but triumphant. I think it must be months before some of them quit panting, and certainly their poor, misused feet can never again be the feet they were.
With them adherence to the time card is everything. If a look at the calendar shows the day to be Monday, they know they are in Munich, and as they lope along they get out their guidebooks and study the chapters devoted to Munich. But if it be Tuesday, then it is Dresden, and they give their attention to literature dealing with the attractions of Dresden; seeing Dresden after the fashion of one sitting before a runaway moving picture film.
Then they pack up and depart, galloping, for Prague with their tongues hanging out. For Wednesday is Prague and Prague is Wednesday —the two words are synonymous and interchangeable. Surely to such as these, the places they have visited must mean as much to them, afterward, as the labels upon their trunks mean to the trunks —just flimsy names pasted on, all confused and overlapping, and certain to be scraped off in time, leaving nothing but faint marks upon an indurated surface.
There is yet again another type, always of the female gender and generally middle-aged and very schoolteacherish in aspect, who, in company with a group of kindred spirits, is viewing Europe under a contract arrangement by which a worn and wearied-looking gentleman, a retired clergyman usually, acts as escort and mentor for a given price. I don't know how much he gets a head for this job; but whatever it is, he earns it ninety-and-nine times over. This lady tourist is much given to missing trains and getting lost and having disputes with natives and wearing rubber overshoes and asking strange questions—but let me illustrate with a story I heard.
The man from Cook's had convoyed his party through the Vatican, until he brought them to the Apollo Belvidere. As they ranged themselves wearily about the statue, he rattled off his regular patter without pause or punctuation:
"Here we have the far-famed Apollo Belvidere found about the middle of the fifteenth century at Frascati purchased by Pope Julius the Second restored by the great Michelangelo taken away by the French in 1797 but returned in 1815 made of Carara marble holding in his hand a portion of the bow with which he slew the Python observe please the beauty of the pose the realistic attitude of the limbs the noble and exalted expression of the face of Apollo Belvidere he being known also as Phoebus the god of oracles the god of music and medicine the son of Leto and Jupiter—"
Here he ran out of breath and stopped. Fora moment no one spoke. Then from a flat-chested little spinster came this query in tired yet interested tones:
"Was he—was he married?"
He who is intent upon studying the effect of foreign climes upon the American temperament should by no means overlook the colonies of resident Americans in the larger European cities, particularly the colonies in such cities as Paris and Rome and Florence. In Berlin, the American colony is largely made up of music students and in Vienna of physicians; but in the other places many folks of many minds and many callings constitute the groups. Some few have left their country for their country's good and some have expatriated themselves because, as they explain in bursts of confidence, living is cheaper in France than it is in America. I suppose it is, too, if one can only become reconciled to doing without most of the comforts which make life worth while in America or anywhere else. Included among this class are many rather unhappy old ladies who somehow impress you as having been shunted off to foreign parts because there were no places for them in the homes of their children and their grandchildren. So now they are spending their last years among strangers, trying with a desperate eagerness to be interested in people and things for which they really care not a fig, with no home except a cheerless pension.
Also there are certain folk—products, in the main, of the Eastern seaboard—who, from having originally lived in America and spent most of their time abroad, have now progressed to the point where they now live mostly abroad and visit America fleetingly once in a blue moon. As a rule these persons know a good deal about Europe and very little about the country that gave them birth. The stock-talk of European literature is at their tongue's tip. They speak of Ibsen in the tone of one mourning the passing of a near, dear, personal friend, and as for Zola—ah, how they miss the influence of his compelling personality! But for the moment they cannot recall whether Richard K. Fox ran the Police Gazette or wrote the "Trail of the Lonesome Pine."
They are up on the history of the Old World. From memory they trace the Bourbon dynasty from the first copper-distilled Charles to the last sourmashed Louis. But as regards our own Revolution, they aren't quite sure whether it was started by the Boston Tea Party or Mrs. O'Leary's Cow. Languidly they inquire whether that quaint Iowa character, Uncle Champ Root, is still Speaker of the House? And so the present Vice-President is named Elihu Underwood? Or isn't he? Anyway, American politics is such a bore. But they stand ready, at a minute's notice, to furnish you with the names, dates and details of all the marriages that have taken place during the last twenty years in the royal house of Denmark.
Some day we shall learn a lesson from Europe. Some fair day we shall begin to exploit our own historical associations. We shall make shrines of the spots where Washington crossed the ice to help end one war and where Eliza did the same thing to help start another. We shall erect stone markers showing where Charley Ross was last seen and Carrie Nation was first sighted. We shall pile up tall monuments to Sitting Bull and Nonpareil Jack Dempsey and the man who invented the spit ball. Perhaps then these truant Americans will come back oftener from Paris and Florence and abide with us longer. Meanwhile though they will continue to stay on the other side. And on second thought, possibly it is just as well for the rest of us that they do.
In Europe I met two persons, born in America, who were openly distressed over that shameful circumstance and could not forgive their parents for being so thoughtless and inconsiderate. One was living in England and the other was living in France; and one was a man and the other was a woman; and both of them were avowedly regretful that they had not been born elsewhere, which, I should say, ought to make the sentiment unanimous. I also heard—at second hand—of a young woman whose father served this country in an ambassadorial capacity at one of the principal Continental courts until the administration at Washington had a lucid interval, and endeared itself to the hearts of practically all Americans residing in that country by throwing a net over him and yanking him back home; this young woman was so fearful lest some one might think she cherished any affection for her native land that once when a legation secretary manifested a desire to learn the score of the deciding game of a World's Series between the Giants and the Athletics, she spoke up in the presence of witnesses and said:
"Ah, baseball! How can any sane person be excited over that American game? Tell me—some one please—how is it played?"
Yet she was born and reared in a town which for a great many years has held a membership in the National League. Let us pass on to a more pleasant topic.
Let us pass on to those well-meaning but temporarily misguided persons who think they are going to be satisfied with staying on indefinitely in Europe. They profess themselves as being amply pleased with the present arrangement. For, no matter how patriotic one may be, one must concede—mustn't one?—that for true culture one must look to Europe? After all, America is a bit crude, isn't it, now? Of course some time, say in two or three years from now, they will run across to the States again, but it will be for a short visit only. After Europe one can never be entirely happy elsewhere for any considerable period of time. And so on and so forth.
But as you mention in an offhand way that Cedar Bluff has a modern fire station now, or that Tulsanooga is going to have a Great White Way of its own, there are eyes that light up with a wistful light. And when you state casually, that Polkdale is planning a civic center with the new county jail at one end and the Carnegie Library at the other, lips begin to quiver under a weight of sentimental emotion. And a month or so later when you take the ship which is to bear you home, you find a large delegation of these native sons of Polkdale and Tulsanooga on board, too.
At least we found them on the ship we took. We took her at Naples —a big comfortable German ship with a fine German crew and a double force of talented German cooks working overtime in the galley and pantry—and so came back by the Mediterranean route, which is a most satisfying route, especially if the sea be smooth and the weather good, and the steerage passengers picturesque and light-hearted. Moreover the coast of Northern Africa, lying along the southern horizon as one nears Gibraltar, is one of the few sights of a European trip that are not disappointing. For, in fact, it proves to be the same color that it is in the geographies —pale yellow. It is very unusual to find a country making an earnest effort to correspond to its own map, and I think Northern Africa deserves honorable mention in the dispatches on this account.
Homeward-bound, a chastened spirit pervades the traveler. He is not quite so much inclined to be gay and blithesome as he was going. The holiday is over; the sightseeing is done; the letter of credit is worn and emaciated. He has been broadened by travel but his pocketbook has been flattened. He wouldn't take anything for this trip, and as he feels at the present moment he wouldn't take it again for anything.
It is a time for casting up and readjusting. Likewise it is a good time for going over, in the calm, reflective light of second judgment, the purchases he has made for personal use and gift-making purposes. These things seemed highly attractive when he bought them, and when displayed against a background of home surroundings will, no doubt, be equally impressive; but just now they appear as rather a sad collection of junk. His English box coat doesn't fit him any better than any other box would.
His French waistcoats develop an unexpected garishness on being displayed away from their native habitat and the writing outfit which he picked up in Vienna turns out to be faulty and treacherous and inkily tearful. How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a fountain pen—that weeps! And why, when a fountain pen makes up its mind to cry a spell, does it crawl clear across a steamer trunk and bury its sobbing countenance in the bosom of a dress shirt?
Likewise the first few days at sea provide opportunity for sorting out the large and variegated crop of impressions a fellow has been acquiring during all these crowded months. The way the homeward-bound one feels now, he would swap any Old Master he ever saw for one peep at a set of sanitary bath fixtures. Sight unseen, he stands ready to trade two cathedrals and a royal palace for a union depot. He will never forget the thrill that shook his soul as he paused beneath the dome of the Pantheon; but he feels that, not only his soul but all the rest of him, could rally and be mighty cheerful in the presence of a dozen deep-sea oysters on the half shell —regular honest-to-goodness North American oysters, so beautifully long, so gracefully pendulous of shape that the short-waisted person who undertakes to swallow one whole does so at his own peril. The picture of the Coliseum bathed in the Italian moonlight will ever abide in his mind; but he would give a good deal for a large double sirloin suffocated Samuel J. Tilden style, with fried onions. Beefsteak! Ah, what sweet images come thronging at the very mention of the word! The sea vanishes magically and before his entranced vision he sees The One Town, full of regular fellows and real people. Somebody is going to have fried ham for supper—five thousand miles away he sniffs the delectable perfume of that fried ham as it seeps through a crack in the kitchen window and wafts out into the street—and the word passes round that there is going to be a social session down at the lodge to-night, followed, mayhap, by a small sociable game of quarter-limit upstairs over Corbett's drug-store. At this point, our traveler rummages his Elks' button out of his trunk and gives it an affectionate polishing with a silk handkerchief. And oh, how he does long for a look at a home newspaper—packed with wrecks and police news and municipal scandals and items about the persons one knows, and chatty mention concerning Congressmen and gunmen and tango teachers and other public characters.
Thinking it all over here in the quiet and privacy of the empty sea, he realizes that his evening paper is the thing he has missed most. To the American understanding foreign papers seem fearfully and wonderfully made. For instance, German newspapers are much addicted to printing their more important news stories in cipher form. The German treatment of a suspected crime for which no arrests have yet been made, reminds one of the jokes which used to appear, a few years ago, in the back part of Harper's Magazine, where a good story was always being related of Bishop X, residing in the town of Y, who, calling one afternoon upon Judge Z, said to Master Egbert, the pet of the household, age four, and so on. A German newspaper will daringly state that Banker ——, president of the Bank of —— at —— who is suspected of sequestering the funds of that institution to his own uses is reported to have departed by stealth for the city of ——, taking with him the wife of Herr ——.
And such is the high personal honor of the average Parisian news gatherer that one Paris morning paper, which specializes in actual news as counterdistinguished from the other Paris papers which rely upon political screeds to fill their columns, locks its doors and disconnects its telephones at 8 o'clock in the evening, so that reporters coming in after that hour must stay in till press time lest some of them—such is the fear—will peddle all the exclusive stories off to less enterprising contemporaries.
English newspapers, though printed in a language resembling American in many rudimentary respects, seem to our conceptions weird propositions, too. It is interesting to find at the tail end of an article a footnote by the editor stating that he has stopped the presses to announce in connection with the foregoing that nothing has occurred in connection with the foregoing which would justify him in stopping the presses to announce it; or words to that effect. The news stories are frequently set forth in a puzzling fashion, and the jokes also. That's the principal fault with an English newspaper joke—it loses so in translation into our own tongue.
Still, when all is said and done, the returning tourist, if he be at all fair-minded, is bound to confess to himself that, no matter where his steps or his round trip ticket have carried him, he has seen in every country institutions and customs his countrymen might copy to their benefit, immediate or ultimate. Having beheld these things with his own eyes, he knows that from the Germans we might learn some much-needed lessons about municipal control and conservation of resources; and from the French and the Austrians about rational observance of days of rest and simple enjoyment of simple outdoor pleasures and respect for great traditions and great memories; and from the Italians, about the blessed facility of keeping in a good humor; and from the English, about minding one's own business and the sane rearing of children and obedience to the law and suppression of unnecessary noises. Whenever I think of this last God-given attribute of the British race, I shall recall a Sunday we spent at Brighton, the favorite seaside resort of middle-class London. Brighton was fairly bulging with excursionists that day.
A good many of them were bucolic visitors from up country, but the majority, it was plain to see, hailed from the city. No steam carousel shrieked, no ballyhoo blared, no steam pianos shrieked, no barker barked. Upon the piers, stretching out into the surf, bands played soothingly softened airs and along the water front, sand-artists and so-called minstrel singers plied their arts. Some of the visitors fished—without catching anything—and some listened to the music and some strolled aimlessly or sat stolidly upon benches enjoying the sea air. To an American, accustomed at such places to din and tumult and rushing crowds and dangerous devices for taking one's breath and sometimes one's life, it was a strange experience, but a mighty restful one.
On the other hand there are some things wherein we notably excel—entirely too many for me to undertake to enumerate them here; still, I think I might be pardoned for enumerating a conspicuous few. We could teach Europe a lot about creature comforts and open plumbing and personal cleanliness and good food and courtesy to women—not the flashy, cheap courtesy which impels a Continental to rise and click his heels and bend his person forward from the abdomen and bow profoundly when a strange woman enters the railway compartment where he is seated, while at the same time he leaves his wife or sister to wrestle with the heavy luggage; but the deeper, less showy instinct which makes the average American believe that every woman is entitled to his protection and consideration when she really needs it. In the crowded street-car he may keep his seat; in the crowded lifeboat he gives it up.
I almost forgot to mention one other detail in which, so far as I could judge, we lead the whole of the Old World—dentistry. Probably you have seen frequent mention in English publications about decayed gentlewomen. Well, England is full of them. It starts with the teeth.
The leisurely, long, slantwise course across the Atlantic gives one time, also, for making the acquaintance of one's fellow passengers and for wondering why some of them ever went to Europe anyway. A source of constant speculation along these lines was the retired hay-and-feed merchant from Michigan who traveled with us. One gathered that he had done little else in these latter years of his life except to traipse back and forth between the two continents. What particularly endeared him to the rest of us was his lovely habit of pronouncing all words of all languages according to a fonetic system of his own. "Yes, sir," you would hear him say, addressing a smoking-room audience of less experienced travelers, "my idee is that a fellow ought to go over on an English ship, if he likes the exclusability, and come back on a German ship if he likes the sociableness. Take my case. The last trip I made I come over on the Lucy Tanner and went back agin on the Grocer K. First and enjoyed it both ways immense!"
Nor would this chronicle be complete without a passing reference to the lady from Cincinnati, a widow of independent means, who was traveling with her two daughters and was so often mistaken for their sister that she could not refrain from mentioning the remarkable circumstance to you, providing you did not win her everlasting regard by mentioning it first. Likewise I feel that I owe the tribute of a line to the elderly Britain who was engaged in a constant and highly successful demonstration of the fallacy of the claim set up by medical practitioners, to the effect that the human stomach can contain but one fluid pint at a time. All day long, with his monocle goggling glassily from the midst of his face, like one lone porthole in a tank steamer, he disproved this statement by practical methods and promptly at nine every evening, when his complexion had acquired a rich magenta tint, he would be carried below by two accommodating stewards and put—no, not put, decanted—would be decanted gently into bed. If anything had happened to the port-light of that ship, we could have stationed him forward in the bows with his face looming over the rail and been well within the maritime regulations—his face had a brilliancy which even the darkness of the night could not dim; and if the other light had gone out of commission, we could have impressed the aid of the bilious Armenian lady who was sick every minute and very sick for some minutes, for she was always of a glassy green color.
We learned to wait regularly for the ceremony of seeing Sir Monocle and his load toted off to bed at nine o'clock every night, just as we learned to linger in the offing and watch the nimble knife-work when the prize invalid of the ship's roster had cornered a fresh victim. The prize invalid, it is hardly worth while to state, was of the opposite sex. So many things ailed her—by her own confession —that you wondered how they all found room on the premises at the same time. Her favorite evening employment was to engage another woman in conversation—preferably another invalid—and by honeyed words and congenial confidences, to lead the unsuspecting prey on and on, until she had her trapped, and then to turn on her suddenly and ridicule the other woman's puny symptoms and tell her she didn't even know the rudiments of being ill and snap her up sharply when she tried to answer back. And then she would deliver a final sting and go away without waiting to bury her dead. The poison was in the postscript—it nearly always is with that type of female. But afterward she would justify herself by saying people must excuse her manner—she didn't mean anything by it; it was just her way, and they must remember that she suffered constantly. Some day when I have time, I shall make that lady the topic of a popular song. I have already fabricated the refrain: Her heart was in the right place, lads, but she had a floating kidney!
Arrives a day when you develop a growing distaste for the company of your kind, or in fact, any kind. 'Tis a day when the sea, grown frisky, kicks up its nimble heels and tosses its frothy mane. A cigar tastes wrong then and the mere sight of so many meat pies and so many German salads at the entrance to the dining salon gives one acute displeasure. By these signs you know that you are on the verge of being taken down with climate fever, which, as I set forth many pages agone, is a malady peculiar to the watery deep, and by green travelers is frequently mistaken for seasickness, which indeed it does resemble in certain respects. I may say that I had one touch of climate fever going over and a succession of touches coming back.
At such a time, the companionship of others palls on one. It is well then to retire to the privacy of one's stateroom and recline awhile. I did a good deal of reclining, coming back; I was not exactly happy while reclining, but I was happier than I would have been doing anything else. Besides, as I reclined there on my cosy bed, a medley of voices would often float in to me through the half-opened port and I could visualize the owners of those voices as they sat ranged in steamer chairs, along the deck. I quote:
"You, Raymund! You get down off that rail this minute." ... "My dear, you just ought to go to mine! He never hesitates a minute about operating, and he has the loveliest manners in the operating room. Wait a minute—I'll write his address down for you. Yes, he is expensive, but very, very thorough." ... "Stew'd, bring me nozher brand' 'n' sozza." ... "Well, now Mr.—excuse me, I didn't catch your name?—oh yes, Mr. Blosser; well, Mr. Blosser, if that isn't the most curious thing! To think of us meeting away out here in the middle of the ocean and both of us knowing Maxie Hockstein in Grand Rapids. It only goes to show one thing—this certainly is a mighty small world." ... "Raymund, did you hear what I said to you!" ... "Do you really think it is becoming? Thank you for saying so. That's what my husband always says. He says that white hair with a youthful face is so attractive, and that's one reason why I've never touched it up. Touched-up hair is so artificial, don't you think?" ... "Wasn't the Bay of Naples just perfectly swell—the water, you know, and the land and the sky and everything, so beautiful and everything?" ... "You Raymund, come away from that lifeboat. Why don't you sit down there and behave yourself and have a nice time watching for whales?" ... "No, ma'am, if you're askin' me I must say I didn't care so much for that art gallery stuff—jest a lot of pictures and statues and junk like that, so far as I noticed. In fact the whole thing—Yurupp itself —was considerable of a disappointment to me. I didn't run acros't a single Knights of Pythias Lodge the whole time and I was over there five months straight hard-runnin'." ... "Really, I think it must be hereditary; it runs in our family. I had an aunt and her hair was snow-white at twenty-one and my grandmother was the same way." ... "Oh yes, the suffering is something terrible. You've had it yourself in a mild form and of course you know. The last time they operated on me, I was on the table an hour and forty minutes—mind you, an hour and forty minutes by the clock—and for three days and nights they didn't know whether I would live another minute."
A crash of glass.
"Stew'd, I ashidently turn' over m' drink—bring me nozher brand' 'n' sozza." ... "Just a minute, Mr. Blosser, I want to tell my husband about it—he'll be awful interested. Say, listen, Poppa, this gentleman here knows Maxie Hockstein out in Grand Rapids." ... "Do you think so, really? A lot of people have said that very same thing to me. They come up to me and say 'I know you must be a Southerner because you have such a true Southern accent.' I suppose I must come by it naturally, for while I was born in New Jersey, my mother was a member of a very old Virginia family and we've always been very strong Southern sympathizers and I went to a finishing school in Baltimore and I was always being mistaken for a Southern girl." ... "Well, I sure had enough of it to do me for one spell. I seen the whole shootin' match and I don't regret what it cost me, but, believe me, little old Keokuk is goin' to look purty good to me when I get back there. Why, them people don't know no more about makin' a cocktail than a rabbit." ... "That's her standing yonder talking to the captain. Yes, that's what so many people say, but as a matter of fact, she's the youngest one of the two. I say, 'These are my daughters,' and then people say, 'You mean your sisters.' Still I married very young—at seventeen—and possibly that helps to explain it." ... "Oh, is that a shark out yonder? Well, anyway, it's a porpoise, and a porpoise is a kind of shark, isn't it? When a porpoise grows up, it gets to be a shark—I read that somewhere. Ain't nature just wonderful?" ... "Raymund Walter Pelham, if I have to speak to you again, young man, I'm going to take you to the stateroom and give you something you won't forget in a hurry." ... "Stew'd, hellup me gellup."
Thus the lazy hours slip by and the spell of the sea takes hold on you and you lose count of the time and can barely muster up the energy to perform the regular noonday task of putting your watch back half an hour. A passenger remarks that this is Thursday and you wonder dimly what happened to Wednesday.
Three days more—just three. The realization comes to you with a joyous shock. Somebody sights a sea-gull. With eager eyes you watch its curving flight. Until this moment you have not been particularly interested in sea-gulls. Heretofore, being a sea-gull seemed to you to have few attractions as a regular career, except that it keeps one out in the open air; otherwise it has struck you as being rather a monotonous life with a sameness as to diet which would grow very tiresome in time. But now you envy that sea-gull, for he comes direct from the shores of the United States of America and if so minded may turn around and beat you to them by a margin of hours and hours and hours. Oh, beauteous creature! Oh, favored bird!
Comes the day before the last day. There is a bustle of getting ready for the landing. Customs blanks are in steady demand at the purser's office. Every other person is seeking help from every other person, regarding the job of filling out declarations. The women go about with the guilty look of plotters in their worried eyes. If one of them fails to slip something in without paying duty on it she will be disappointed for life. All women are natural enemies to all excise men. Dirk, the Smuggler, was the father of their race.
Comes the last day. Dead ahead lies a misty, thread-like strip of dark blue, snuggling down against the horizon, where sea and sky merge.
You think it is a cloud bank, until somebody tells you the glorious truth. It is the Western Hemisphere—your Western Hemisphere. It is New England. Dear old New England! Charming people—the New Englanders! Ah, breathes there the man with soul so dead who never to himself has said, this is my own, my native land? Certainly not. A man with a soul so dead as that would be taking part in a funeral, not in a sea voyage. Upon your lips a word hangs poised. What a precious sound it has, what new meanings it has acquired! There are words in our language which are singular and yet sound plural, such as politics and whereabouts; there are words which are plural and yet sound singular, such as Brigham Young, and there are words which convey their exact significance by their very sound. They need no word-chandlers, no adjective-smiths to dress them up in the fine feathers of fancy phrasing. They stand on their own merits. You think of one such word—a short, sweet word of but four letters. You speak that word reverently, lovingly, caressingly.
Nearer and nearer draws that blessed dark blue strip. Nantucket light is behind us. Long Island shoulders up alongside. Trunks accumulate in gangways; so do stewards and other functionaries. You have been figuring upon the tips which you will bestow upon them at parting; so have they. It will be hours yet before we land. Indeed, if the fog thickens, we may not get in before to-morrow, yet people run about exchanging good-byes and swapping visiting cards and promising one another they will meet again. I think it is reckless for people to trifle with their luck that way.
Forward, on the lower deck, the immigrants cluster, chattering a magpie chorus in many tongues. The four-and-twenty blackbirds which were baked in a pie without impairment to the vocal cords have nothing on them. Most of the women were crying when they came aboard at Naples or Palermo or Gibraltar. Now they are all smiling. Their dunnage is piled in heaps and sailors, busy with ropes and chains and things, stumble over it and swear big round German oaths.
Why, gracious! We are actually off Sandy Hook. Dear old Sandy —how one loves those homely Scotch names! The Narrows are nigh and Brooklyn, the City Beautiful, awaits us around the second turning to the left. The pilot boat approaches. Brave little craft! Gallant pilot! Do you suppose by any chance he has brought any daily papers with him? He has—hurrah for the thoughtful pilot! Did you notice how much he looked like the pictures of Santa Claus?
We move on more slowly and twice again we stop briefly. The quarantine officers have clambered up the sides and are among us; and to some of us they give cunning little thermometers to hold in our mouths and suck on, and of others they ask chatty, intimate questions with a view to finding out how much insanity there is in the family at present and just what percentage of idiocy prevails? Three cheers for the jolly old quarantine regulations. Even the advance guard of the customhouse is welcomed by one and all—or nearly all.
Between wooded shores which seem to advance to meet her in kindly greeting, the good ship shoves ahead. For she is a good ship, and later we shall miss her, but at this moment we feel that we can part from her without a pang. She rounds a turn in the channel. What is that mass which looms on beyond, where cloud-combing office buildings scallop the sky and bridges leap in far-flung spans from shore to shore? That's her—all right—the high picketed gateway of the nation. That's little old New York. Few are the art centers there, and few the ruins; and perhaps there is not so much culture lying round loose as there might be—just bustle and hustle, and the rush and crush and roar of business and a large percentage of men who believe in supporting their own wives and one wife at a time. Crass perhaps, crude perchance, in many ways, but no matter. All her faults are virtues now. Beloved metropolis, we salute thee! And also do we turn to salute Miss Liberty.
This series of adventure tales began with the Statue of Liberty fading rearward through the harbor mists. It draws to a close with the same old lady looming through those same mists and drawing ever closer and closer. She certainly does look well this afternoon, doesn't she? She always does look well, somehow.
We slip past her and on past the Battery too; and are nosing up the North River. What a picturesque stream it is, to be sure! And how full of delightful rubbish! In twenty minutes or less we shall be at the dock. Folks we know are there now, waiting to welcome us.
As close as we can pack ourselves, we gather in the gangways. Some one raises a voice in song. 'Tis not the Marseillaise hymn that we sing, nor Die Wacht am Rhein, nor Ava Maria, nor God Save the King; nor yet is it Columbia the Gem of the Ocean. In their proper places these are all good songs, but we know one more suitable to the occasion, and so we all join in. Hark! Happy voices float across the narrowing strip of rolly water between ship and shore:
"'Mid pleasures and palaces, Though we may roam,
(Now then, altogether, mates:)
Be it ever so humble, There's no place like HOME!"
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