Produced by David Widger (Illustrated HTML version)
A TRAMP ABROAD
By Mark Twain
(Samuel L. Clemens)
First published in 1880
The Great French Duel
[I Second Gambetta in a Terrific Duel]
Much as the modern French duel is ridiculed by certain
smart people, it is in reality one of the most dangerous
institutions of our day. Since it is always fought in the
open air, the combatants are nearly sure to catch cold.
M. Paul de Cassagnac, the most inveterate of the French
duelists, had suffered so often in this way that he is at
last a confirmed invalid; and the best physician in Paris
has expressed the opinion that if he goes on dueling for
fifteen or twenty years more--unless he forms the habit
of fighting in a comfortable room where damps and draughts
cannot intrude--he will eventually endanger his life.
This ought to moderate the talk of those people who are
so stubborn in maintaining that the French duel is the
most health-giving of recreations because of the open-air
exercise it affords. And it ought also to moderate that
foolish talk about French duelists and socialist-hated
monarchs being the only people who are immoral.
But it is time to get at my subject. As soon as I heard
of the late fiery outbreak between M. Gambetta and M. Fourtou
in the French Assembly, I knew that trouble must follow.
I knew it because a long personal friendship with
M. Gambetta revealed to me the desperate and implacable
nature of the man. Vast as are his physical proportions,
I knew that the thirst for revenge would penetrate
to the remotest frontiers of his person.
I did not wait for him to call on me, but went at once
to him. As I had expected, I found the brave fellow
steeped in a profound French calm. I say French calm,
because French calmness and English calmness have points
of difference. He was moving swiftly back and forth
among the debris of his furniture, now and then staving
chance fragments of it across the room with his foot;
grinding a constant grist of curses through his set teeth;
and halting every little while to deposit another handful
of his hair on the pile which he had been building of it on
He threw his arms around my neck, bent me over his stomach
to his breast, kissed me on both cheeks, hugged me four
or five times, and then placed me in his own arm-chair.
As soon as I had got well again, we began business at once.
I said I supposed he would wish me to act as his second,
and he said, "Of course." I said I must be allowed
to act under a French name, so that I might be shielded
from obloquy in my country, in case of fatal results.
He winced here, probably at the suggestion that dueling was
not regarded with respect in America. However, he agreed
to my requirement. This accounts for the fact that in all
the newspaper reports M. Gambetta's second was apparently
First, we drew up my principal's will. I insisted upon this,
and stuck to my point. I said I had never heard of a man
in his right mind going out to fight a duel without
first making his will. He said he had never heard
of a man in his right mind doing anything of the kind.
When he had finished the will, he wished to proceed
to a choice of his "last words." He wanted to know
how the following words, as a dying exclamation, struck me:
"I die for my God, for my country, for freedom of speech,
for progress, and the universal brotherhood of man!"
I objected that this would require too lingering a death;
it was a good speech for a consumptive, but not suited
to the exigencies of the field of honor. We wrangled
over a good many ante-mortem outbursts, but I finally got
him to cut his obituary down to this, which he copied
into his memorandum-book, purposing to get it by heart:
"I DIE THAT FRANCE MIGHT LIVE."
I said that this remark seemed to lack relevancy; but he
said relevancy was a matter of no consequence in last words,
what you wanted was thrill.
The next thing in order was the choice of weapons.
My principal said he was not feeling well, and would leave
that and the other details of the proposed meeting to me.
Therefore I wrote the following note and carried it to
M. Fourtou's friend:
Sir: M. Gambetta accepts M. Fourtou's challenge,
and authorizes me to propose Plessis-Piquet as the place
of meeting; tomorrow morning at daybreak as the time;
and axes as the weapons.
I am, sir, with great respect,
M. Fourtou's friend read this note, and shuddered.
Then he turned to me, and said, with a suggestion of
severity in his tone:
"Have you considered, sir, what would be the inevitable
result of such a meeting as this?"
"Well, for instance, what WOULD it be?"
"That's about the size of it," I said. "Now, if it is
a fair question, what was your side proposing to shed?"
I had him there. He saw he had made a blunder, so he hastened
to explain it away. He said he had spoken jestingly.
Then he added that he and his principal would enjoy axes,
and indeed prefer them, but such weapons were barred
by the French code, and so I must change my proposal.
I walked the floor, turning the thing over in my mind,
and finally it occurred to me that Gatling-guns at fifteen
paces would be a likely way to get a verdict on the field
of honor. So I framed this idea into a proposition.
But it was not accepted. The code was in the way again.
I proposed rifles; then double-barreled shotguns;
then Colt's navy revolvers. These being all rejected,
I reflected awhile, and sarcastically suggested brickbats
at three-quarters of a mile. I always hate to fool away
a humorous thing on a person who has no perception of humor;
and it filled me with bitterness when this man went soberly
away to submit the last proposition to his principal.
He came back presently and said his principal was charmed
with the idea of brickbats at three-quarters of a mile,
but must decline on account of the danger to disinterested
parties passing between them. Then I said:
"Well, I am at the end of my string, now. Perhaps YOU
would be good enough to suggest a weapon? Perhaps you
have even had one in your mind all the time?"
His countenance brightened, and he said with alacrity:
"Oh, without doubt, monsieur!"
So he fell to hunting in his pockets--pocket after pocket,
and he had plenty of them--muttering all the while,
"Now, what could I have done with them?"
At last he was successful. He fished out of his vest pocket
a couple of little things which I carried to the light
and ascertained to be pistols. They were single-barreled
and silver-mounted, and very dainty and pretty.
I was not able to speak for emotion. I silently hung
one of them on my watch-chain, and returned the other.
My companion in crime now unrolled a postage-stamp
containing several cartridges, and gave me one of them.
I asked if he meant to signify by this that our men were
to be allowed but one shot apiece. He replied that the
French code permitted no more. I then begged him to go
and suggest a distance, for my mind was growing weak
and confused under the strain which had been put upon it.
He named sixty-five yards. I nearly lost my patience.
"Sixty-five yards, with these instruments? Squirt-guns
would be deadlier at fifty. Consider, my friend,
you and I are banded together to destroy life, not make
But with all my persuasions, all my arguments, I was only
able to get him to reduce the distance to thirty-five yards;
and even this concession he made with reluctance,
and said with a sigh, "I wash my hands of this slaughter;
on your head be it."
There was nothing for me but to go home to my old
lion-heart and tell my humiliating story. When I entered,
M. Gambetta was laying his last lock of hair upon the altar.
He sprang toward me, exclaiming:
"You have made the fatal arrangements--I see it in your eye!"
His face paled a trifle, and he leaned upon the table
for support. He breathed thick and heavily for a moment
or two, so tumultuous were his feelings; then he hoarsely
"The weapon, the weapon! Quick! what is the weapon?"
"This!" and I displayed that silver-mounted thing.
He cast but one glance at it, then swooned ponderously
to the floor.
When he came to, he said mournfully:
"The unnatural calm to which I have subjected myself
has told upon my nerves. But away with weakness!
I will confront my fate like a man and a Frenchman."
He rose to his feet, and assumed an attitude which
for sublimity has never been approached by man,
and has seldom been surpassed by statues. Then he said,
in his deep bass tones:
"Behold, I am calm, I am ready; reveal to me the distance."
"Thirty-five yards." ...
I could not lift him up, of course; but I rolled him over,
and poured water down his back. He presently came to,
"Thirty-five yards--without a rest? But why ask? Since
murder was that man's intention, why should he palter
with small details? But mark you one thing: in my fall
the world shall see how the chivalry of France meets death."
After a long silence he asked:
"Was nothing said about that man's family standing
up with him, as an offset to my bulk? But no matter;
I would not stoop to make such a suggestion; if he is
not noble enough to suggest it himself, he is welcome
to this advantage, which no honorable man would take."
He now sank into a sort of stupor of reflection,
which lasted some minutes; after which he broke silence with:
"The hour--what is the hour fixed for the collision?"
He seemed greatly surprised, and immediately said:
"Insanity! I never heard of such a thing. Nobody is
abroad at such an hour."
"That is the reason I named it. Do you mean to say you
want an audience?"
"It is no time to bandy words. I am astonished that M. Fourtou
should ever have agreed to so strange an innovation.
Go at once and require a later hour."
I ran downstairs, threw open the front door, and almost
plunged into the arms of M. Fourtou's second. He said:
"I have the honor to say that my principal strenuously
objects to the hour chosen, and begs you will consent
to change it to half past nine."
"Any courtesy, sir, which it is in our power to extend
is at the service of your excellent principal. We agree
to the proposed change of time."
"I beg you to accept the thanks of my client." Then he
turned to a person behind him, and said, "You hear, M. Noir,
the hour is altered to half past nine." Whereupon
M. Noir bowed, expressed his thanks, and went away.
My accomplice continued:
"If agreeable to you, your chief surgeons and ours shall
proceed to the field in the same carriage as is customary."
"It is entirely agreeable to me, and I am obliged
to you for mentioning the surgeons, for I am afraid
I should not have thought of them. How many shall
I want? I supposed two or three will be enough?"
"Two is the customary number for each party. I refer
to 'chief' surgeons; but considering the exalted positions
occupied by our clients, it will be well and decorous
that each of us appoint several consulting surgeons,
from among the highest in the profession. These will
come in their own private carriages. Have you engaged
"Bless my stupidity, I never thought of it! I will attend
to it right away. I must seem very ignorant to you;
but you must try to overlook that, because I have never
had any experience of such a swell duel as this before.
I have had a good deal to do with duels on the Pacific coast,
but I see now that they were crude affairs. A hearse--sho!
we used to leave the elected lying around loose, and let
anybody cord them up and cart them off that wanted to.
Have you anything further to suggest?"
"Nothing, except that the head undertakers shall ride together,
as is usual. The subordinates and mutes will go on foot,
as is also usual. I will see you at eight o'clock
in the morning, and we will then arrange the order
of the procession. I have the honor to bid you a good day."
I returned to my client, who said, "Very well;
at what hour is the engagement to begin?"
"Half past nine."
"Very good indeed.; Have you sent the fact to the newspapers?"
"SIR! If after our long and intimate friendship you can
for a moment deem me capable of so base a treachery--"
"Tut, tut! What words are these, my dear friend? Have I
wounded you? Ah, forgive me; I am overloading you with labor.
Therefore go on with the other details, and drop this
one from your list. The bloody-minded Fourtou will be
sure to attend to it. Or I myself--yes, to make certain,
I will drop a note to my journalistic friend, M. Noir--"
"Oh, come to think of it, you may save yourself the trouble;
that other second has informed M. Noir."
"H'm! I might have known it. It is just like that Fourtou,
who always wants to make a display."
At half past nine in the morning the procession approached
the field of Plessis-Piquet in the following order: first
came our carriage--nobody in it but M. Gambetta and myself;
then a carriage containing M. Fourtou and his second;
then a carriage containing two poet-orators who did
not believe in God, and these had MS. funeral orations
projecting from their breast pockets; then a carriage
containing the head surgeons and their cases of instruments;
then eight private carriages containing consulting surgeons;
then a hack containing a coroner; then the two hearses;
then a carriage containing the head undertakers;
then a train of assistants and mutes on foot; and after
these came plodding through the fog a long procession
of camp followers, police, and citizens generally.
It was a noble turnout, and would have made a fine display
if we had had thinner weather.
There was no conversation. I spoke several times to
my principal, but I judge he was not aware of it, for he
always referred to his note-book and muttered absently,
"I die that France might live."
Arrived on the field, my fellow-second and I paced off
the thirty-five yards, and then drew lots for choice
of position. This latter was but an ornamental ceremony,
for all the choices were alike in such weather.
These preliminaries being ended, I went to my principal
and asked him if he was ready. He spread himself out
to his full width, and said in a stern voice, "Ready! Let
the batteries be charged."
The loading process was done in the presence of duly
constituted witnesses. We considered it best to perform
this delicate service with the assistance of a lantern,
on account of the state of the weather. We now placed
At this point the police noticed that the public had massed
themselves together on the right and left of the field;
they therefore begged a delay, while they should put
these poor people in a place of safety.
The request was granted.
The police having ordered the two multitudes to take
positions behind the duelists, we were once more ready.
The weather growing still more opaque, it was agreed between
myself and the other second that before giving the fatal
signal we should each deliver a loud whoop to enable
the combatants to ascertain each other's whereabouts.
I now returned to my principal, and was distressed
to observe that he had lost a good deal of his spirit.
I tried my best to hearten him. I said, "Indeed, sir,
things are not as bad as they seem. Considering the character
of the weapons, the limited number of shots allowed,
the generous distance, the impenetrable solidity of the fog,
and the added fact that one of the combatants is one-eyed
and the other cross-eyed and near-sighted, it seems to me
that this conflict need not necessarily be fatal. There are
chances that both of you may survive. Therefore, cheer up;
do not be downhearted."
This speech had so good an effect that my principal
immediately stretched forth his hand and said, "I am
myself again; give me the weapon."
I laid it, all lonely and forlorn, in the center of the vast
solitude of his palm. He gazed at it and shuddered.
And still mournfully contemplating it, he murmured in a
"Alas, it is not death I dread, but mutilation."
I heartened him once more, and with such success that he
presently said, "Let the tragedy begin. Stand at my back;
do not desert me in this solemn hour, my friend."
I gave him my promise. I now assisted him to point
his pistol toward the spot where I judged his adversary
to be standing, and cautioned him to listen well and
further guide himself by my fellow-second's whoop.
Then I propped myself against M. Gambetta's back,
and raised a rousing "Whoop-ee!" This was answered from
out the far distances of the fog, and I immediately shouted:
Two little sounds like SPIT! SPIT! broke upon my ear,
and in the same instant I was crushed to the earth under
a mountain of flesh. Bruised as I was, I was still able
to catch a faint accent from above, to this effect:
"I die for... for ... perdition take it,
what IS it I die for? ... oh, yes--FRANCE! I die
that France may live!"
The surgeons swarmed around with their probes in
their hands, and applied their microscopes to the whole
area of M. Gambetta's person, with the happy result of
finding nothing in the nature of a wound. Then a scene
ensued which was in every way gratifying and inspiriting.
The two gladiators fell upon each other's neck, with floods
of proud and happy tears; that other second embraced me;
the surgeons, the orators, the undertakers, the police,
everybody embraced, everybody congratulated, everybody cried,
and the whole atmosphere was filled with praise and with
It seems to me then that I would rather be a hero
of a French duel than a crowned and sceptered monarch.
When the commotion had somewhat subsided, the body
of surgeons held a consultation, and after a good deal
of debate decided that with proper care and nursing there
was reason to believe that I would survive my injuries.
My internal hurts were deemed the most serious, since it
was apparent that a broken rib had penetrated my left lung,
and that many of my organs had been pressed out so far
to one side or the other of where they belonged, that it
was doubtful if they would ever learn to perform their
functions in such remote and unaccustomed localities.
They then set my left arm in two places, pulled my right
hip into its socket again, and re-elevated my nose.
I was an object of great interest, and even admiration;
and many sincere and warm-hearted persons had themselves
introduced to me, and said they were proud to know
the only man who had been hurt in a French duel in
I was placed in an ambulance at the very head of the procession;
and thus with gratifying 'ECLAT I was marched into Paris,
the most conspicuous figure in that great spectacle,
and deposited at the hospital.
The cross of the Legion of Honor has been conferred
upon me. However, few escape that distinction.
Such is the true version of the most memorable private
conflict of the age.
I have no complaints to make against any one. I acted
for myself, and I can stand the consequences.
Without boasting, I think I may say I am not afraid
to stand before a modern French duelist, but as long
as I keep in my right mind I will never consent to stand
behind one again.
[What the Beautiful Maiden Said]
One day we took the train and went down to Mannheim
to see "King Lear" played in German. It was a mistake.
We sat in our seats three whole hours and never understood
anything but the thunder and lightning; and even that
was reversed to suit German ideas, for the thunder came
first and the lightning followed after.
The behavior of the audience was perfect. There were
no rustlings, or whisperings, or other little disturbances;
each act was listened to in silence, and the applauding
was done after the curtain was down. The doors opened at
half past four, the play began promptly at half past five,
and within two minutes afterward all who were coming were
in their seats, and quiet reigned. A German gentleman
in the train had said that a Shakespearian play was an
appreciated treat in Germany and that we should find the
house filled. It was true; all the six tiers were filled,
and remained so to the end--which suggested that it is
not only balcony people who like Shakespeare in Germany,
but those of the pit and gallery, too.
Another time, we went to Mannheim and attended a shivaree
--otherwise an opera--the one called "Lohengrin." The
banging and slamming and booming and crashing were
something beyond belief. The racking and pitiless
pain of it remains stored up in my memory alongside
the memory of the time that I had my teeth fixed.
There were circumstances which made it necessary for me
to stay through the hour hours to the end, and I stayed;
but the recollection of that long, dragging, relentless season
of suffering is indestructible. To have to endure it
in silence, and sitting still, made it all the harder.
I was in a railed compartment with eight or ten strangers,
of the two sexes, and this compelled repression;
yet at times the pain was so exquisite that I could hardly
keep the tears back. At those times, as the howlings
and wailings and shrieking of the singers, and the ragings
and roarings and explosions of the vast orchestra rose
higher and higher, and wilder and wilder, and fiercer
and fiercer, I could have cried if I had been alone.
Those strangers would not have been surprised to see
a man do such a thing who was being gradually skinned,
but they would have marveled at it here, and made remarks
about it no doubt, whereas there was nothing in the
present case which was an advantage over being skinned.
There was a wait of half an hour at the end of the first act,
and I could not trust myself to do it, for I felt that I
should desert to stay out. There was another wait
of half an hour toward nine o'clock, but I had gone
through so much by that time that I had no spirit left,
and so had no desire but to be let alone.
I do not wish to suggest that the rest of the people there
were like me, for, indeed, they were not. Whether it
was that they naturally liked that noise, or whether it
was that they had learned to like it by getting used to it,
I did not at the time know; but they did like--this was
plain enough. While it was going on they sat and looked
as rapt and grateful as cats do when one strokes their backs;
and whenever the curtain fell they rose to their feet,
in one solid mighty multitude, and the air was snowed thick
with waving handkerchiefs, and hurricanes of applause
swept the place. This was not comprehensible to me.
Of course, there were many people there who were not
under compulsion to stay; yet the tiers were as full at
the close as they had been at the beginning. This showed
that the people liked it.
It was a curious sort of a play. In the manner
of costumes and scenery it was fine and showy enough;
but there was not much action. That is to say,
there was not much really done, it was only talked about;
and always violently. It was what one might call a
narrative play. Everybody had a narrative and a grievance,
and none were reasonable about it, but all in an offensive
and ungovernable state. There was little of that sort
of customary thing where the tenor and the soprano stand
down by the footlights, warbling, with blended voices,
and keep holding out their arms toward each other and drawing
them back and spreading both hands over first one breast
and then the other with a shake and a pressure--no,
it was every rioter for himself and no blending.
Each sang his indictive narrative in turn, accompanied by
the whole orchestra of sixty instruments, and when this had
continued for some time, and one was hoping they might come
to an understanding and modify the noise, a great chorus
composed entirely of maniacs would suddenly break forth,
and then during two minutes, and sometimes three, I lived
over again all that I suffered the time the orphan asylum burned
We only had one brief little season of heaven and heaven's
sweet ecstasy and peace during all this long and diligent
and acrimonious reproduction of the other place.
This was while a gorgeous procession of people marched around
and around, in the third act, and sang the Wedding Chorus.
To my untutored ear that was music--almost divine music.
While my seared soul was steeped in the healing balm
of those gracious sounds, it seemed to me that I could
almost resuffer the torments which had gone before,
in order to be so healed again. There is where the deep
ingenuity of the operatic idea is betrayed. It deals so
largely in pain that its scattered delights are prodigiously
augmented by the contrasts. A pretty air in an opera is
prettier there than it could be anywhere else, I suppose,
just as an honest man in politics shines more than he
I have since found out that there is nothing the Germans
like so much as an opera. They like it, not in a mild
and moderate way, but with their whole hearts.
This is a legitimate result of habit and education.
Our nation will like the opera, too, by and by, no doubt.
One in fifty of those who attend our operas likes
it already, perhaps, but I think a good many of the other
forty-nine go in order to learn to like it, and the
rest in order to be able to talk knowingly about it.
The latter usually hum the airs while they are being sung,
so that their neighbors may perceive that they have been
to operas before. The funerals of these do not occur
A gentle, old-maidish person and a sweet young girl
of seventeen sat right in front of us that night at the
Mannheim opera. These people talked, between the acts,
and I understood them, though I understood nothing
that was uttered on the distant stage. At first they
were guarded in their talk, but after they had heard
my agent and me conversing in English they dropped their
reserve and I picked up many of their little confidences;
no, I mean many of HER little confidences--meaning
the elder party--for the young girl only listened,
and gave assenting nods, but never said a word. How pretty
she was, and how sweet she was! I wished she would speak.
But evidently she was absorbed in her own thoughts,
her own young-girl dreams, and found a dearer pleasure
in silence. But she was not dreaming sleepy dreams--no,
she was awake, alive, alert, she could not sit still
a moment. She was an enchanting study. Her gown was
of a soft white silky stuff that clung to her round
young figure like a fish's skin, and it was rippled
over with the gracefulest little fringy films of lace;
she had deep, tender eyes, with long, curved lashes;
and she had peachy cheeks, and a dimpled chin, and such
a dear little rosebud of a mouth; and she was so dovelike,
so pure, and so gracious, so sweet and so bewitching.
For long hours I did mightily wish she would speak.
And at last she did; the red lips parted, and out leaps her
thought--and with such a guileless and pretty enthusiasm,
too: "Auntie, I just KNOW I've got five hundred fleas
That was probably over the average. Yes, it must have been
very much over the average. The average at that time
in the Grand Duchy of Baden was forty-five to a young
person (when alone), according to the official estimate
of the home secretary for that year; the average for older
people was shifty and indeterminable, for whenever a
wholesome young girl came into the presence of her elders
she immediately lowered their average and raised her own.
She became a sort of contribution-box. This dear young
thing in the theater had been sitting there unconsciously
taking up a collection. Many a skinny old being in our
neighborhood was the happier and the restfuler for her coming.
In that large audience, that night, there were eight very
conspicuous people. These were ladies who had their hats
or bonnets on. What a blessed thing it would be if a lady
could make herself conspicuous in our theaters by wearing
her hat. It is not usual in Europe to allow ladies
and gentlemen to take bonnets, hats, overcoats, canes,
or umbrellas into the auditorium, but in Mannheim this
rule was not enforced because the audiences were largely
made up of people from a distance, and among these were
always a few timid ladies who were afraid that if they had
to go into an anteroom to get their things when the play
was over, they would miss their train. But the great mass
of those who came from a distance always ran the risk
and took the chances, preferring the loss of a train
to a breach of good manners and the discomfort of being
unpleasantly conspicuous during a stretch of three or four hours.
[How Wagner Operas Bang Along]
Three or four hours. That is a long time to sit in one place,
whether one be conspicuous or not, yet some of Wagner's
operas bang along for six whole hours on a stretch!
But the people sit there and enjoy it all, and wish it
would last longer. A German lady in Munich told me
that a person could not like Wagner's music at first,
but must go through the deliberate process of learning
to like it--then he would have his sure reward;
for when he had learned to like it he would hunger
for it and never be able to get enough of it. She said
that six hours of Wagner was by no means too much.
She said that this composer had made a complete revolution
in music and was burying the old masters one by one.
And she said that Wagner's operas differed from all others
in one notable respect, and that was that they were not
merely spotted with music here and there, but were ALL music,
from the first strain to the last. This surprised me.
I said I had attended one of his insurrections, and found
hardly ANY music in it except the Wedding Chorus.
She said "Lohengrin" was noisier than Wagner's other operas,
but that if I would keep on going to see it I would find
by and by that it was all music, and therefore would
then enjoy it. I COULD have said, "But would you advise
a person to deliberately practice having a toothache
in the pit of his stomach for a couple of years in order
that he might then come to enjoy it?" But I reserved
This lady was full of the praises of the head-tenor
who had performed in a Wagner opera the night before,
and went on to enlarge upon his old and prodigious fame,
and how many honors had been lavished upon him by the
princely houses of Germany. Here was another surprise.
I had attended that very opera, in the person of my agent,
and had made close and accurate observations. So I
"Why, madam, MY experience warrants me in stating
that that tenor's voice is not a voice at all,
but only a shriek--the shriek of a hyena."
"That is very true," she said; "he cannot sing now;
it is already many years that he has lost his voice,
but in other times he sang, yes, divinely! So whenever
he comes now, you shall see, yes, that the theater
will not hold the people. JAWOHL BEI GOTT! his voice
is WUNDERSCHOEN in that past time."
I said she was discovering to me a kindly trait in the
Germans which was worth emulating. I said that over
the water we were not quite so generous; that with us,
when a singer had lost his voice and a jumper had lost
his legs, these parties ceased to draw. I said I had been
to the opera in Hanover, once, and in Mannheim once,
and in Munich (through my authorized agent) once, and this
large experience had nearly persuaded me that the Germans
PREFERRED singers who couldn't sing. This was not such
a very extravagant speech, either, for that burly Mannheim
tenor's praises had been the talk of all Heidelberg for
a week before his performance took place--yet his voice
was like the distressing noise which a nail makes when you
screech it across a window-pane. I said so to Heidelberg
friends the next day, and they said, in the calmest and
simplest way, that that was very true, but that in earlier
times his voice HAD been wonderfully fine. And the tenor
in Hanover was just another example of this sort.
The English-speaking German gentleman who went with me
to the opera there was brimming with enthusiasm over that tenor.
"ACH GOTT! a great man! You shall see him. He is so celebrate
in all Germany--and he has a pension, yes, from the government.
He not obliged to sing now, only twice every year;
but if he not sing twice each year they take him his pension
Very well, we went. When the renowned old tenor appeared,
I got a nudge and an excited whisper:
"Now you see him!"
But the "celebrate" was an astonishing disappointment to me.
If he had been behind a screen I should have supposed
they were performing a surgical operation on him.
I looked at my friend--to my great surprise he seemed
intoxicated with pleasure, his eyes were dancing
with eager delight. When the curtain at last fell,
he burst into the stormiest applause, and kept it up--as
did the whole house--until the afflictive tenor had
come three times before the curtain to make his bow.
While the glowing enthusiast was swabbing the perspiration
from his face, I said:
"I don't mean the least harm, but really, now, do you
think he can sing?"
"Him? NO! GOTT IM HIMMEL, ABER, how he has been able to
sing twenty-five years ago?" [Then pensively.] "ACH, no,
NOW he not sing any more, he only cry. When he think
he sing, now, he not sing at all, no, he only make
like a cat which is unwell."
Where and how did we get the idea that the Germans
are a stolid, phlegmatic race? In truth, they are
widely removed from that. They are warm-hearted,
emotional, impulsive, enthusiastic, their tears come
at the mildest touch, and it is not hard to move them
to laughter. They are the very children of impulse.
We are cold and self-contained, compared to the Germans.
They hug and kiss and cry and shout and dance and sing;
and where we use one loving, petting expressions they pour
out a score. Their language is full of endearing diminutives;
nothing that they love escapes the application of a petting
diminutive--neither the house, nor the dog, nor the horse,
nor the grandmother, nor any other creature, animate or
In the theaters at Hanover, Hamburg, and Mannheim,
they had a wise custom. The moment the curtain went up,
the light in the body of the house went down.
The audience sat in the cool gloom of a deep twilight,
which greatly enhanced the glowing splendors of the stage.
It saved gas, too, and people were not sweated to death.
When I saw "King Lear" played, nobody was allowed to see
a scene shifted; if there was nothing to be done but slide
a forest out of the way and expose a temple beyond, one did
not see that forest split itself in the middle and go
shrieking away, with the accompanying disenchanting spectacle
of the hands and heels of the impelling impulse--no,
the curtain was always dropped for an instant--one heard
not the least movement behind it--but when it went up,
the next instant, the forest was gone. Even when the
stage was being entirely reset, one heard no noise.
During the whole time that "King Lear" was playing
the curtain was never down two minutes at any one time.
The orchestra played until the curtain was ready to go up
for the first time, then they departed for the evening.
Where the stage waits never each two minutes there is no
occasion for music. I had never seen this two-minute
business between acts but once before, and that was when
the "Shaughraun" was played at Wallack's.
I was at a concert in Munich one night, the people
were streaming in, the clock-hand pointed to seven,
the music struck up, and instantly all movement in
the body of the house ceased--nobody was standing,
or walking up the aisles, or fumbling with a seat,
the stream of incomers had suddenly dried up at its source.
I listened undisturbed to a piece of music that was fifteen
minutes long--always expecting some tardy ticket-holders
to come crowding past my knees, and being continuously and
pleasantly disappointed--but when the last note was struck,
here came the stream again. You see, they had made
those late comers wait in the comfortable waiting-parlor
from the time the music had begin until it was ended.
It was the first time I had ever seen this sort of
criminals denied the privilege of destroying the comfort
of a house full of their betters. Some of these were
pretty fine birds, but no matter, they had to tarry
outside in the long parlor under the inspection of
a double rank of liveried footmen and waiting-maids
who supported the two walls with their backs and held
the wraps and traps of their masters and mistresses on their
We had no footmen to hold our things, and it was not
permissible to take them into the concert-room; but there
were some men and women to take charge of them for us.
They gave us checks for them and charged a fixed price,
payable in advance--five cents.
In Germany they always hear one thing at an opera
which has never yet been heard in America, perhaps--I
mean the closing strain of a fine solo or duet.
We always smash into it with an earthquake of applause.
The result is that we rob ourselves of the sweetest
part of the treat; we get the whiskey, but we don't get
the sugar in the bottom of the glass.
Our way of scattering applause along through an act seems
to me to be better than the Mannheim way of saving it
all up till the act is ended. I do not see how an actor
can forget himself and portray hot passion before a cold
still audience. I should think he would feel foolish.
It is a pain to me to this day, to remember how that old
German Lear raged and wept and howled around the stage,
with never a response from that hushed house, never a
single outburst till the act was ended. To me there was
something unspeakably uncomfortable in the solemn dead
silences that always followed this old person's tremendous
outpourings of his feelings. I could not help putting
myself in his place--I thought I knew how sick and flat
he felt during those silences, because I remembered a case
which came under my observation once, and which--but I
will tell the incident:
One evening on board a Mississippi steamboat, a boy of ten
years lay asleep in a berth--a long, slim-legged boy,
he was, encased in quite a short shirt; it was the first
time he had ever made a trip on a steamboat, and so he
was troubled, and scared, and had gone to bed with his
head filled with impending snaggings, and explosions,
and conflagrations, and sudden death. About ten o'clock
some twenty ladies were sitting around about the ladies'
saloon, quietly reading, sewing, embroidering, and so on,
and among them sat a sweet, benignant old dame with round
spectacles on her nose and her busy knitting-needles
in her hands. Now all of a sudden, into the midst of this
peaceful scene burst that slim-shanked boy in the brief shirt,
wild-eyed, erect-haired, and shouting, "Fire, fire!
JUMP AND RUN, THE BOAT'S AFIRE AND THERE AIN'T A MINUTE
TO LOSE!" All those ladies looked sweetly up and smiled,
nobody stirred, the old lady pulled her spectacles down,
looked over them, and said, gently:
"But you mustn't catch cold, child. Run and put on
your breastpin, and then come and tell us all about it."
It was a cruel chill to give to a poor little devil's
gushing vehemence. He was expecting to be a sort of
hero--the creator of a wild panic--and here everybody
sat and smiled a mocking smile, and an old woman made
fun of his bugbear. I turned and crept away--for I
was that boy--and never even cared to discover whether
I had dreamed the fire or actually seen it.
I am told that in a German concert or opera, they hardly
ever encore a song; that though they may be dying to hear
it again, their good breeding usually preserves them
against requiring the repetition.
Kings may encore; that is quite another matter;
it delights everybody to see that the King is pleased;
and as to the actor encored, his pride and gratification
are simply boundless. Still, there are circumstances
in which even a royal encore--
But it is better to illustrate. The King of Bavaria is
a poet, and has a poet's eccentricities--with the advantage
over all other poets of being able to gratify them,
no matter what form they may take. He is fond of opera,
but not fond of sitting in the presence of an audience;
therefore, it has sometimes occurred, in Munich,
that when an opera has been concluded and the players
were getting off their paint and finery, a command has
come to them to get their paint and finery on again.
Presently the King would arrive, solitary and alone,
and the players would begin at the beginning and do the
entire opera over again with only that one individual
in the vast solemn theater for audience. Once he took
an odd freak into his head. High up and out of sight,
over the prodigious stage of the court theater is a maze
of interlacing water-pipes, so pierced that in case
of fire, innumerable little thread-like streams of
water can be caused to descend; and in case of need,
this discharge can be augmented to a pouring flood.
American managers might want to make a note of that.
The King was sole audience. The opera proceeded,
it was a piece with a storm in it; the mimic thunder
began to mutter, the mimic wind began to wail and sough,
and the mimic rain to patter. The King's interest rose
higher and higher; it developed into enthusiasm. He cried
"It is very, very good, indeed! But I will have real
rain! Turn on the water!"
The manager pleaded for a reversal of the command; said it
would ruin the costly scenery and the splendid costumes,
but the King cried:
"No matter, no matter, I will have real rain! Turn
on the water!"
So the real rain was turned on and began to descend in
gossamer lances to the mimic flower-beds and gravel walks
of the stage. The richly dressed actresses and actors
tripped about singing bravely and pretending not to mind it.
The King was delighted--his enthusiasm grew higher.
He cried out:
"Bravo, bravo! More thunder! more lightning! turn
on more rain!"
The thunder boomed, the lightning glared, the storm-winds raged,
the deluge poured down. The mimic royalty on the stage,
with their soaked satins clinging to their bodies,
slopped about ankle-deep in water, warbling their sweetest
and best, the fiddlers under the eaves of the state sawed
away for dear life, with the cold overflow spouting down
the backs of their necks, and the dry and happy King sat
in his lofty box and wore his gloves to ribbons applauding.
"More yet!" cried the King; "more yet--let loose all
the thunder, turn on all the water! I will hang the man
that raises an umbrella!"
When this most tremendous and effective storm that had
ever been produced in any theater was at last over,
the King's approbation was measureless. He cried:
"Magnificent, magnificent! ENCORE! Do it again!"
But the manager succeeded in persuading him to recall
the encore, and said the company would feel sufficiently
rewarded and complimented in the mere fact that the
encore was desired by his Majesty, without fatiguing
him with a repetition to gratify their own vanity.
During the remainder of the act the lucky performers
were those whose parts required changes of dress;
the others were a soaked, bedraggled, and uncomfortable lot,
but in the last degree picturesque. The stage scenery
was ruined, trap-doors were so swollen that they wouldn't
work for a week afterward, the fine costumes were spoiled,
and no end of minor damages were done by that remarkable storm.
It was royal idea--that storm--and royally carried out.
But observe the moderation of the King; he did not
insist upon his encore. If he had been a gladsome,
unreflecting American opera-audience, he probably would
have had his storm repeated and repeated until he drowned
all those people.
[I Paint a "Turner"]
The summer days passed pleasantly in Heidelberg.
We had a skilled trainer, and under his instructions we
were getting our legs in the right condition for the
contemplated pedestrian tours; we were well satisfied
with the progress which we had made in the German language,
[1. See Appendix D for information concerning this
fearful tongue.] and more than satisfied with what we had
accomplished in art. We had had the best instructors in
drawing and painting in Germany--Haemmerling, Vogel, Mueller,
Dietz, and Schumann. Haemmerling taught us landscape-painting.
Vogel taught us figure-drawing, Mueller taught us to do
still-life, and Dietz and Schumann gave us a finishing
course in two specialties--battle-pieces and shipwrecks.
Whatever I am in Art I owe to these men. I have something
of the manner of each and all of them; but they all said that I
had also a manner of my own, and that it was conspicuous.
They said there was a marked individuality about my
style--insomuch that if I ever painted the commonest
type of a dog, I should be sure to throw a something
into the aspect of that dog which would keep him from
being mistaken for the creation of any other artist.
Secretly I wanted to believe all these kind sayings,
but I could not; I was afraid that my masters'
partiality for me, and pride in me, biased their judgment.
So I resolved to make a test. Privately, and unknown
to any one, I painted my great picture, "Heidelberg Castle
Illuminated"--my first really important work in oils--and
had it hung up in the midst of a wilderness of oil-pictures
in the Art Exhibition, with no name attached to it. To my
great gratification it was instantly recognized as mine.
All the town flocked to see it, and people even came from
neighboring localities to visit it. It made more stir than
any other work in the Exhibition. But the most gratifying
thing of all was, that chance strangers, passing through,
who had not heard of my picture, were not only drawn to it,
as by a lodestone, the moment they entered the gallery,
but always took it for a "Turner."
Apparently nobody had ever done that. There were ruined
castles on the overhanging cliffs and crags all the way;
these were said to have their legends, like those on the Rhine,
and what was better still, they had never been in print.
There was nothing in the books about that lovely region;
it had been neglected by the tourist, it was virgin soil for
the literary pioneer.
Meantime the knapsacks, the rough walking-suits and the stout
walking-shoes which we had ordered, were finished and brought
to us. A Mr. X and a young Mr. Z had agreed to go with us.
We went around one evening and bade good-by to our friends,
and afterward had a little farewell banquet at the hotel.
We got to bed early, for we wanted to make an early start,
so as to take advantage of the cool of the morning.
We were out of bed at break of day, feeling fresh
and vigorous, and took a hearty breakfast, then plunged
down through the leafy arcades of the Castle grounds,
toward the town. What a glorious summer morning it was,
and how the flowers did pour out their fragrance,
and how the birds did sing! It was just the time for a
tramp through the woods and mountains.
We were all dressed alike: broad slouch hats, to keep the
sun off; gray knapsacks; blue army shirts; blue overalls;
leathern gaiters buttoned tight from knee down to ankle;
high-quarter coarse shoes snugly laced. Each man had
an opera-glass, a canteen, and a guide-book case slung
over his shoulder, and carried an alpenstock in one hand
and a sun-umbrella in the other. Around our hats were
wound many folds of soft white muslin, with the ends
hanging and flapping down our backs--an idea brought
from the Orient and used by tourists all over Europe.
Harris carried the little watch-like machine called
a "pedometer," whose office is to keep count of a man's
steps and tell how far he has walked. Everybody stopped
to admire our costumes and give us a hearty "Pleasant march
When we got downtown I found that we could go by rail to
within five miles of Heilbronn. The train was just starting,
so we jumped aboard and went tearing away in splendid spirits.
It was agreed all around that we had done wisely,
because it would be just as enjoyable to walk DOWN the Neckar
as up it, and it could not be needful to walk both ways.
There were some nice German people in our compartment.
I got to talking some pretty private matters presently,
and Harris became nervous; so he nudged me and said:
"Speak in German--these Germans may understand English."
I did so, it was well I did; for it turned out that there
was not a German in that party who did not understand
English perfectly. It is curious how widespread our language
is in Germany. After a while some of those folks got out
and a German gentleman and his two young daughters got in.
I spoke in German of one of the latter several times,
but without result. Finally she said:
"ICH VERSTEHE NUR DEUTCH UND ENGLISHE,"--or words to
that effect. That is, "I don't understand any language
but German and English."
And sure enough, not only she but her father and sister
spoke English. So after that we had all the talk we wanted;
and we wanted a good deal, for they were agreeable people.
They were greatly interested in our customs; especially
the alpenstocks, for they had not seen any before.
They said that the Neckar road was perfectly level, so we
must be going to Switzerland or some other rugged country;
and asked us if we did not find the walking pretty fatiguing
in such warm weather. But we said no.
We reached Wimpfen--I think it was Wimpfen--in about
three hours, and got out, not the least tired; found a
good hotel and ordered beer and dinner--then took
a stroll through the venerable old village. It was very
picturesque and tumble-down, and dirty and interesting.
It had queer houses five hundred years old in it,
and a military tower 115 feet high, which had stood there
more than ten centuries. I made a little sketch of it.
I kept a copy, but gave the original to the Burgomaster.
I think the original was better than the copy, because it
had more windows in it and the grass stood up better and had
a brisker look. There was none around the tower, though;
I composed the grass myself, from studies I made in a field
by Heidelberg in Haemmerling's time. The man on top,
looking at the view, is apparently too large, but I found
he could not be made smaller, conveniently. I wanted
him there, and I wanted him visible, so I thought out a
way to manage it; I composed the picture from two points
of view; the spectator is to observe the man from bout
where that flag is, and he must observe the tower itself
from the ground. This harmonizes the seeming discrepancy.
Near an old cathedral, under a shed, were three crosses
of stone--moldy and damaged things, bearing life-size
stone figures. The two thieves were dressed in the fanciful
court costumes of the middle of the sixteenth century,
while the Saviour was nude, with the exception of a cloth
around the loins.
We had dinner under the green trees in a garden belonging
to the hotel and overlooking the Neckar; then, after a smoke,
we went to bed. We had a refreshing nap, then got up
about three in the afternoon and put on our panoply.
As we tramped gaily out at the gate of the town,
we overtook a peasant's cart, partly laden with odds and
ends of cabbages and similar vegetable rubbish, and drawn
by a small cow and a smaller donkey yoked together.
It was a pretty slow concern, but it got us into Heilbronn
before dark--five miles, or possibly it was seven.
We stopped at the very same inn which the famous old
robber-knight and rough fighter Goetz von Berlichingen,
abode in after he got out of captivity in the Square Tower
of Heilbronn between three hundred and fifty and four hundred
years ago. Harris and I occupied the same room which he
had occupied and the same paper had not quite peeled off
the walls yet. The furniture was quaint old carved stuff,
full four hundred years old, and some of the smells
were over a thousand. There was a hook in the wall,
which the landlord said the terrific old Goetz used to
hang his iron hand on when he took it off to go to bed.
This room was very large--it might be called immense
--and it was on the first floor; which means it was in
the second story, for in Europe the houses are so high
that they do not count the first story, else they
would get tired climbing before they got to the top.
The wallpaper was a fiery red, with huge gold figures in it,
well smirched by time, and it covered all the doors.
These doors fitted so snugly and continued the figures
of the paper so unbrokenly, that when they were closed
one had to go feeling and searching along the wall
to find them. There was a stove in the corner--one
of those tall, square, stately white porcelain things
that looks like a monument and keeps you thinking
of death when you ought to be enjoying your travels.
The windows looked out on a little alley, and over that
into a stable and some poultry and pig yards in the rear
of some tenement-houses. There were the customary two beds
in the room, one in one end, the other in the other,
about an old-fashioned brass-mounted, single-barreled
pistol-shot apart. They were fully as narrow as the usual
German bed, too, and had the German bed's ineradicable
habit of spilling the blankets on the floor every time
you forgot yourself and went to sleep.
A round table as large as King Arthur's stood in the
center of the room; while the waiters were getting
ready to serve our dinner on it we all went out to see
the renowned clock on the front of the municipal buildings.
[What the Wives Saved]
The RATHHAUS, or municipal building, is of the quaintest
and most picturesque Middle-Age architecture. It has a
massive portico and steps, before it, heavily balustraded,
and adorned with life-sized rusty iron knights in
complete armor. The clock-face on the front of the building
is very large and of curious pattern. Ordinarily, a gilded
angel strikes the hour on a big bell with a hammer;
as the striking ceases, a life-sized figure of Time raises
its hour-glass and turns it; two golden rams advance
and butt each other; a gilded cock lifts its wings;
but the main features are two great angels, who stand
on each side of the dial with long horns at their lips;
it was said that they blew melodious blasts on these
horns every hour--but they did not do it for us.
We were told, later, than they blew only at night,
when the town was still.
Within the RATHHAUS were a number of huge wild boars'
heads, preserved, and mounted on brackets along the wall;
they bore inscriptions telling who killed them and how many
hundred years ago it was done. One room in the building
was devoted to the preservation of ancient archives.
There they showed us no end of aged documents; some were
signed by Popes, some by Tilly and other great generals,
and one was a letter written and subscribed by Goetz von
Berlichingen in Heilbronn in 1519 just after his release
from the Square Tower.
This fine old robber-knight was a devoutly and sincerely
religious man, hospitable, charitable to the poor,
fearless in fight, active, enterprising, and possessed
of a large and generous nature. He had in him a
quality of being able to overlook moderate injuries,
and being able to forgive and forget mortal ones as
soon as he had soundly trounced the authors of them.
He was prompt to take up any poor devil's quarrel and risk
his neck to right him. The common folk held him dear,
and his memory is still green in ballad and tradition.
He used to go on the highway and rob rich wayfarers;
and other times he would swoop down from his high castle
on the hills of the Neckar and capture passing cargoes
of merchandise. In his memoirs he piously thanks the
Giver of all Good for remembering him in his needs and
delivering sundry such cargoes into his hands at times
when only special providences could have relieved him.
He was a doughty warrior and found a deep joy in battle.
In an assault upon a stronghold in Bavaria when he was
only twenty-three years old, his right hand was shot away,
but he was so interested in the fight that he did not
observe it for a while. He said that the iron hand
which was made for him afterward, and which he wore for
more than half a century, was nearly as clever a member
as the fleshy one had been. I was glad to get a facsimile
of the letter written by this fine old German Robin Hood,
though I was not able to read it. He was a better artist
with his sword than with his pen.
We went down by the river and saw the Square Tower.
It was a very venerable structure, very strong,
and very ornamental. There was no opening near the ground.
They had to use a ladder to get into it, no doubt.
We visited the principal church, also--a curious
old structure, with a towerlike spire adorned with all
sorts of grotesque images. The inner walls of the church
were placarded with large mural tablets of copper,
bearing engraved inscriptions celebrating the merits
of old Heilbronn worthies of two or three centuries ago,
and also bearing rudely painted effigies of themselves
and their families tricked out in the queer costumes of
those days. The head of the family sat in the foreground,
and beyond him extended a sharply receding and diminishing
row of sons; facing him sat his wife, and beyond
her extended a low row of diminishing daughters.
The family was usually large, but the perspective bad.
Then we hired the hack and the horse which Goetz von
Berlichingen used to use, and drove several miles into
the country to visit the place called WEIBERTREU--Wife's
Fidelity I suppose it means. It was a feudal castle
of the Middle Ages. When we reached its neighborhood we
found it was beautifully situated, but on top of a mound,
or hill, round and tolerably steep, and about two hundred
feet high. Therefore, as the sun was blazing hot,
we did not climb up there, but took the place on trust,
and observed it from a distance while the horse leaned up
against a fence and rested. The place has no interest
except that which is lent it by its legend, which is
a very pretty one--to this effect:
In the Middle Ages, a couple of young dukes, brothers,
took opposite sides in one of the wars, the one fighting
for the Emperor, the other against him. One of them
owned the castle and village on top of the mound which I
have been speaking of, and in his absence his brother
came with his knights and soldiers and began a siege.
It was a long and tedious business, for the people
made a stubborn and faithful defense. But at last
their supplies ran out and starvation began its work;
more fell by hunger than by the missiles of the enemy.
They by and by surrendered, and begged for charitable terms.
But the beleaguering prince was so incensed against them
for their long resistance that he said he would spare none
but the women and children--all men should be put to the
sword without exception, and all their goods destroyed.
Then the women came and fell on their knees and begged for
the lives of their husbands.
"No," said the prince, "not a man of them shall escape alive;
you yourselves shall go with your children into houseless
and friendless banishment; but that you may not starve
I grant you this one grace, that each woman may bear
with her from this place as much of her most valuable
property as she is able to carry."
Very well, presently the gates swung open and out filed
those women carrying their HUSBANDS on their shoulders.
The besiegers, furious at the trick, rushed forward
to slaughter the men, but the Duke stepped between and
"No, put up your swords--a prince's word is inviolable."
When we got back to the hotel, King Arthur's Round Table
was ready for us in its white drapery, and the head waiter
and his first assistant, in swallow-tails and white cravats,
brought in the soup and the hot plates at once.
Mr. X had ordered the dinner, and when the wine came on,
he picked up a bottle, glanced at the label, and then turned
to the grave, the melancholy, the sepulchral head waiter
and said it was not the sort of wine he had asked for.
The head waiter picked up the bottle, cast his undertaker-eye
on it and said:
"It is true; I beg pardon." Then he turned on his
subordinate and calmly said, "Bring another label."
At the same time he slid the present label off with his hand
and laid it aside; it had been newly put on, its paste
was still wet. When the new label came, he put it on;
our French wine being now turned into German wine,
according to desire, the head waiter went blandly about his
other duties, as if the working of this sort of miracle
was a common and easy thing to him.
Mr. X said he had not known, before, that there were
people honest enough to do this miracle in public,
but he was aware that thousands upon thousands of labels
were imported into America from Europe every year,
to enable dealers to furnish to their customers in a quiet
and inexpensive way all the different kinds of foreign
wines they might require.
We took a turn around the town, after dinner, and found
it fully as interesting in the moonlight as it had been
in the daytime. The streets were narrow and roughly paved,
and there was not a sidewalk or a street-lamp anywhere.
The dwellings were centuries old, and vast enough for hotels.
They widened all the way up; the stories projected
further and further forward and aside as they ascended,
and the long rows of lighted windows, filled with little bits
of panes, curtained with figured white muslin and adorned
outside with boxes of flowers, made a pretty effect.
The moon was bright, and the light and shadow very strong;
and nothing could be more picturesque than those curving
streets, with their rows of huge high gables leaning
far over toward each other in a friendly gossiping way,
and the crowds below drifting through the alternating blots
of gloom and mellow bars of moonlight. Nearly everybody
was abroad, chatting, singing, romping, or massed in lazy
comfortable attitudes in the doorways.
In one place there was a public building which was
fenced about with a thick, rusty chain, which sagged
from post to post in a succession of low swings.
The pavement, here, was made of heavy blocks of stone.
In the glare of the moon a party of barefooted children
were swinging on those chains and having a noisy good time.
They were not the first ones who have done that;
even their great-great-grandfathers had not been the first
to do it when they were children. The strokes of the bare
feet had worn grooves inches deep in the stone flags;
it had taken many generations of swinging children to
accomplish that. Everywhere in the town were the mold
and decay that go with antiquity, and evidence of it;
but I do not know that anything else gave us so vivid
a sense of the old age of Heilbronn as those footworn
grooves in the paving-stones.
[My Long Crawl in the Dark]
When we got back to the hotel I wound and set the
pedometer and put it in my pocket, for I was to carry
it next day and keep record of the miles we made.
The work which we had given the instrument to do during
the day which had just closed had not fatigued it perceptibly.
We were in bed by ten, for we wanted to be up and away on
our tramp homeward with the dawn. I hung fire, but Harris
went to sleep at once. I hate a man who goes to sleep
at once; there is a sort of indefinable something about it
which is not exactly an insult, and yet is an insolence;
and one which is hard to bear, too. I lay there fretting
over this injury, and trying to go to sleep; but the harder
I tried, the wider awake I grew. I got to feeling very lonely
in the dark, with no company but an undigested dinner.
My mind got a start by and by, and began to consider the
beginning of every subject which has ever been thought of;
but it never went further than the beginning; it was touch
and go; it fled from topic to topic with a frantic speed.
At the end of an hour my head was in a perfect whirl and I
was dead tired, fagged out.
The fatigue was so great that it presently began to make some
head against the nervous excitement; while imagining myself
wide awake, I would really doze into momentary unconsciousness,
and come suddenly out of it with a physical jerk which nearly
wrenched my joints apart--the delusion of the instant
being that I was tumbling backward over a precipice.
After I had fallen over eight or nine precipices and thus
found out that one half of my brain had been asleep eight
or nine times without the wide-awake, hard-working other
half suspecting it, the periodical unconsciousnesses
began to extend their spell gradually over more of my
brain-territory, and at last I sank into a drowse which
grew deeper and deeper and was doubtless just on the very
point of being a solid, blessed dreamless stupor, when--what was
My dulled faculties dragged themselves partly back to life
and took a receptive attitude. Now out of an immense,
a limitless distance, came a something which grew and grew,
and approached, and presently was recognizable as a sound
--it had rather seemed to be a feeling, before. This sound
was a mile away, now--perhaps it was the murmur of a storm;
and now it was nearer--not a quarter of a mile away;
was it the muffled rasping and grinding of distant
machinery? No, it came still nearer; was it the measured
tramp of a marching troop? But it came nearer still,
and still nearer--and at last it was right in the room: it
was merely a mouse gnawing the woodwork. So I had held my
breath all that time for such a trifle.
Well, what was done could not be helped; I would go
to sleep at once and make up the lost time. That was
a thoughtless thought. Without intending it--hardly
knowing it--I fell to listening intently to that sound,
and even unconsciously counting the strokes of the mouse's
nutmeg-grater. Presently I was deriving exquisite suffering
from this employment, yet maybe I could have endured
it if the mouse had attended steadily to his work;
but he did not do that; he stopped every now and then,
and I suffered more while waiting and listening for
him to begin again than I did while he was gnawing.
Along at first I was mentally offering a reward
of five--six--seven--ten--dollars for that mouse;
but toward the last I was offering rewards which were
entirely beyond my means. I close-reefed my ears
--that is to say, I bent the flaps of them down and furled
them into five or six folds, and pressed them against
the hearing-orifice--but it did no good: the faculty
was so sharpened by nervous excitement that it was become
a microphone and could hear through the overlays without trouble.
My anger grew to a frenzy. I finally did what all persons
before me have done, clear back to Adam,--resolved to
throw something. I reached down and got my walking-shoes,
then sat up in bed and listened, in order to exactly locate
the noise. But I couldn't do it; it was as unlocatable
as a cricket's noise; and where one thinks that that is,
is always the very place where it isn't. So I presently
hurled a shoe at random, and with a vicious vigor.
It struck the wall over Harris's head and fell down on him;
I had not imagined I could throw so far. It woke Harris,
and I was glad of it until I found he was not angry;
then I was sorry. He soon went to sleep again,
which pleased me; but straightway the mouse began again,
which roused my temper once more. I did not want to wake
Harris a second time, but the gnawing continued until I
was compelled to throw the other shoe. This time I broke
a mirror--there were two in the room--I got the largest one,
of course. Harris woke again, but did not complain,
and I was sorrier than ever. I resolved that I would
suffer all possible torture before I would disturb him a
The mouse eventually retired, and by and by I was sinking
to sleep, when a clock began to strike; I counted till
it was done, and was about to drowse again when another
clock began; I counted; then the two great RATHHAUS clock
angels began to send forth soft, rich, melodious blasts
from their long trumpets. I had never heard anything
that was so lovely, or weird, or mysterious--but when they
got to blowing the quarter-hours, they seemed to me to be
overdoing the thing. Every time I dropped off for the moment,
a new noise woke me. Each time I woke I missed my coverlet,
and had to reach down to the floor and get it again.
At last all sleepiness forsook me. I recognized the fact
that I was hopelessly and permanently wide awake.
Wide awake, and feverish and thirsty. When I had lain
tossing there as long as I could endure it, it occurred
to me that it would be a good idea to dress and go out in
the great square and take a refreshing wash in the fountain,
and smoke and reflect there until the remnant of the night
I believed I could dress in the dark without waking Harris.
I had banished my shoes after the mouse, but my slippers
would do for a summer night. So I rose softly, and gradually
got on everything--down to one sock. I couldn't seem
to get on the track of that sock, any way I could fix it.
But I had to have it; so I went down on my hands and knees,
with one slipper on and the other in my hand, and began to
paw gently around and rake the floor, but with no success.
I enlarged my circle, and went on pawing and raking.
With every pressure of my knee, how the floor creaked!
and every time I chanced to rake against any article,
it seemed to give out thirty-five or thirty-six times
more noise than it would have done in the daytime.
In those cases I always stopped and held my breath till I
was sure Harris had not awakened--then I crept along again.
I moved on and on, but I could not find the sock;
I could not seem to find anything but furniture.
I could not remember that there was much furniture
in the room when I went to bed, but the place was alive
with it now --especially chairs--chairs everywhere
--had a couple of families moved in, in the mean time? And
I never could seem to GLANCE on one of those chairs,
but always struck it full and square with my head.
My temper rose, by steady and sure degrees, and as I
pawed on and on, I fell to making vicious comments under
Finally, with a venomous access of irritation, I said I
would leave without the sock; so I rose up and made straight
for the door--as I supposed--and suddenly confronted my
dim spectral image in the unbroken mirror. It startled
the breath out of me, for an instant; it also showed me
that I was lost, and had no sort of idea where I was.
When I realized this, I was so angry that I had to sit
down on the floor and take hold of something to keep
from lifting the roof off with an explosion of opinion.
If there had been only one mirror, it might possibly have
helped to locate me; but there were two, and two were as
bad as a thousand; besides, these were on opposite sides
of the room. I could see the dim blur of the windows,
but in my turned-around condition they were exactly
where they ought not to be, and so they only confused me
instead of helping me.
I started to get up, and knocked down an umbrella;
it made a noise like a pistol-shot when it struck
that hard, slick, carpetless floor; I grated my teeth
and held my breath--Harris did not stir. I set the
umbrella slowly and carefully on end against the wall,
but as soon as I took my hand away, its heel slipped
from under it, and down it came again with another bang.
I shrunk together and listened a moment in silent fury
--no harm done, everything quiet. With the most painstaking
care and nicety, I stood the umbrella up once more,
took my hand away, and down it came again.
I have been strictly reared, but if it had not been
so dark and solemn and awful there in that lonely,
vast room, I do believe I should have said something
then which could not be put into a Sunday-school book
without injuring the sale of it. If my reasoning powers
had not been already sapped dry by my harassments,
I would have known better than to try to set an umbrella
on end on one of those glassy German floors in the dark;
it can't be done in the daytime without four failures
to one success. I had one comfort, though--Harris was
yet still and silent--he had not stirred.
The umbrella could not locate me--there were four
standing around the room, and all alike. I thought I
would feel along the wall and find the door in that way.
I rose up and began this operation, but raked down
a picture. It was not a large one, but it made noise
enough for a panorama. Harris gave out no sound, but I
felt that if I experimented any further with the pictures
I should be sure to wake him. Better give up trying to
get out. Yes, I would find King Arthur's Round Table once
more--I had already found it several times--and use it
for a base of departure on an exploring tour for my bed;
if I could find my bed I could then find my water pitcher;
I would quench my raging thirst and turn in. So I started
on my hands and knees, because I could go faster that way,
and with more confidence, too, and not knock down things.
By and by I found the table--with my head--rubbed the
bruise a little, then rose up and started, with hands
abroad and fingers spread, to balance myself. I found
a chair; then a wall; then another chair; then a sofa;
then an alpenstock, then another sofa; this confounded me,
for I had thought there was only one sofa. I hunted
up the table again and took a fresh start; found some
It occurred to me, now, as it ought to have done before,
that as the table was round, it was therefore of no
value as a base to aim from; so I moved off once more,
and at random among the wilderness of chairs and sofas
--wandering off into unfamiliar regions, and presently knocked
a candlestick and knocked off a lamp, grabbed at the lamp
and knocked off a water pitcher with a rattling crash,
and thought to myself, "I've found you at last--I
judged I was close upon you." Harris shouted "murder,"
and "thieves," and finished with "I'm absolutely drowned."
The crash had roused the house. Mr. X pranced in,
in his long night-garment, with a candle, young Z after him
with another candle; a procession swept in at another door,
with candles and lanterns--landlord and two German guests
in their nightgowns and a chambermaid in hers.
I looked around; I was at Harris's bed, a Sabbath-day's
journey from my own. There was only one sofa; it was against
the wall; there was only one chair where a body could get
at it--I had been revolving around it like a planet,
and colliding with it like a comet half the night.
I explained how I had been employing myself, and why.
Then the landlord's party left, and the rest of us set
about our preparations for breakfast, for the dawn was
ready to break. I glanced furtively at my pedometer,
and found I had made 47 miles. But I did not care, for I
had come out for a pedestrian tour anyway.
[Rafting Down the Neckar]
When the landlord learned that I and my agents were artists,
our party rose perceptibly in his esteem; we rose still
higher when he learned that we were making a pedestrian
tour of Europe.
He told us all about the Heidelberg road, and which
were the best places to avoid and which the best ones
to tarry at; he charged me less than cost for the things
I broke in the night; he put up a fine luncheon for us
and added to it a quantity of great light-green plums,
the pleasantest fruit in Germany; he was so anxious to do us
honor that he would not allow us to walk out of Heilbronn,
but called up Goetz von Berlichingen's horse and cab
and made us ride.
I made a sketch of the turnout. It is not a Work, it is only
what artists call a "study"--a thing to make a finished
picture from. This sketch has several blemishes in it;
for instance, the wagon is not traveling as fast as the
horse is. This is wrong. Again, the person trying to get
out of the way is too small; he is out of perspective,
as we say. The two upper lines are not the horse's back,
they are the reigns; there seems to be a wheel missing
--this would be corrected in a finished Work, of course.
This thing flying out behind is not a flag, it is a curtain.
That other thing up there is the sun, but I didn't get
enough distance on it. I do not remember, now, what that
thing is that is in front of the man who is running,
but I think it is a haystack or a woman. This study
was exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1879, but did not
take any medal; they do not give medals for studies.
We discharged the carriage at the bridge. The river was
full of logs--long, slender, barkless pine logs--and we
leaned on the rails of the bridge, and watched the men put
them together into rafts. These rafts were of a shape
and construction to suit the crookedness and extreme
narrowness of the Neckar. They were from fifty to one
hundred yards long, and they gradually tapered from a
nine-log breadth at their sterns, to a three-log breadth
at their bow-ends. The main part of the steering is done
at the bow, with a pole; the three-log breadth there
furnishes room for only the steersman, for these little logs
are not larger around than an average young lady's waist.
The connections of the several sections of the raft are
slack and pliant, so that the raft may be readily bent
into any sort of curve required by the shape of the river.
The Neckar is in many places so narrow that a person
can throw a dog across it, if he has one; when it is
also sharply curved in such places, the raftsman has
to do some pretty nice snug piloting to make the turns.
The river is not always allowed to spread over its whole
bed--which is as much as thirty, and sometimes forty yards
wide--but is split into three equal bodies of water,
by stone dikes which throw the main volume, depth, and current
into the central one. In low water these neat narrow-edged
dikes project four or five inches above the surface,
like the comb of a submerged roof, but in high water
they are overflowed. A hatful of rain makes high water
in the Neckar, and a basketful produces an overflow.
There are dikes abreast the Schloss Hotel, and the current
is violently swift at that point. I used to sit for hours
in my glass cage, watching the long, narrow rafts slip
along through the central channel, grazing the right-bank
dike and aiming carefully for the middle arch of the stone
bridge below; I watched them in this way, and lost all this
time hoping to see one of them hit the bridge-pier and wreck
itself sometime or other, but was always disappointed.
One was smashed there one morning, but I had just stepped
into my room a moment to light a pipe, so I lost it.
While I was looking down upon the rafts that morning
in Heilbronn, the daredevil spirit of adventure came
suddenly upon me, and I said to my comrades:
"_I_ am going to Heidelberg on a raft. Will you venture
Their faces paled a little, but they assented with as
good a grace as they could. Harris wanted to cable his
mother--thought it his duty to do that, as he was all
she had in this world--so, while he attended to this,
I went down to the longest and finest raft and hailed
the captain with a hearty "Ahoy, shipmate!" which put us
upon pleasant terms at once, and we entered upon business.
I said we were on a pedestrian tour to Heidelberg,
and would like to take passage with him. I said this
partly through young Z, who spoke German very well,
and partly through Mr. X, who spoke it peculiarly. I can
UNDERSTAND German as well as the maniac that invented it,
but I TALK it best through an interpreter.
The captain hitched up his trousers, then shifted
his quid thoughtfully. Presently he said just what I
was expecting he would say--that he had no license
to carry passengers, and therefore was afraid the law
would be after him in case the matter got noised about
or any accident happened. So I CHARTERED the raft
and the crew and took all the responsibilities on myself.
With a rattling song the starboard watch bent to their
work and hove the cable short, then got the anchor home,
and our bark moved off with a stately stride, and soon
was bowling along at about two knots an hour.
Our party were grouped amidships. At first the talk was
a little gloomy, and ran mainly upon the shortness of life,
the uncertainty of it, the perils which beset it, and the
need and wisdom of being always prepared for the worst;
this shaded off into low-voiced references to the dangers
of the deep, and kindred matters; but as the gray east
began to redden and the mysterious solemnity and silence
of the dawn to give place to the joy-songs of the birds,
the talk took a cheerier tone, and our spirits began to
Germany, in the summer, is the perfection of the beautiful,
but nobody has understood, and realized, and enjoyed
the utmost possibilities of this soft and peaceful
beauty unless he has voyaged down the Neckar on a raft.
The motion of a raft is the needful motion; it is gentle,
and gliding, and smooth, and noiseless; it calms down
all feverish activities, it soothes to sleep all nervous
hurry and impatience; under its restful influence all the
troubles and vexations and sorrows that harass the mind
vanish away, and existence becomes a dream, a charm,
a deep and tranquil ecstasy. How it contrasts with hot
and perspiring pedestrianism, and dusty and deafening
railroad rush, and tedious jolting behind tired horses
over blinding white roads!
We went slipping silently along, between the green and
fragrant banks, with a sense of pleasure and contentment
that grew, and grew, all the time. Sometimes the banks
were overhung with thick masses of willows that wholly
hid the ground behind; sometimes we had noble hills on
one hand, clothed densely with foliage to their tops,
and on the other hand open levels blazing with poppies,
or clothed in the rich blue of the corn-flower;
sometimes we drifted in the shadow of forests, and sometimes
along the margin of long stretches of velvety grass,
fresh and green and bright, a tireless charm to the eye.
And the birds!--they were everywhere; they swept back
and forth across the river constantly, and their jubilant
music was never stilled.
It was a deep and satisfying pleasure to see the sun
create the new morning, and gradually, patiently,
lovingly, clothe it on with splendor after splendor,
and glory after glory, till the miracle was complete.
How different is this marvel observed from a raft,
from what it is when one observes it through the dingy
windows of a railway-station in some wretched village
while he munches a petrified sandwich and waits for the train.