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Mark Twain > A Tramp Abroad > Chapter XXI

A Tramp Abroad

Chapter XXI


[Insolent Shopkeepers and Gabbling Americans]

Baden-Baden sits in the lap of the hills, and the natural
and artificial beauties of the surroundings are combined
effectively and charmingly. The level strip of ground
which stretches through and beyond the town is laid
out in handsome pleasure grounds, shaded by noble trees
and adorned at intervals with lofty and sparkling
fountain-jets. Thrice a day a fine band makes music
in the public promenade before the Conversation House,
and in the afternoon and evening that locality is populous
with fashionably dressed people of both sexes, who march
back and forth past the great music-stand and look very
much bored, though they make a show of feeling otherwise.
It seems like a rather aimless and stupid existence.
A good many of these people are there for a real
purpose, however; they are racked with rheumatism,
and they are there to stew it out in the hot baths.
These invalids looked melancholy enough, limping about on
their canes and crutches, and apparently brooding over
all sorts of cheerless things. People say that Germany,
with her damp stone houses, is the home of rheumatism.
If that is so, Providence must have foreseen that it
would be so, and therefore filled the land with the
healing baths. Perhaps no other country is so generously
supplied with medicinal springs as Germany. Some of
these baths are good for one ailment, some for another;
and again, peculiar ailments are conquered by combining
the individual virtues of several different baths.
For instance, for some forms of disease, the patient drinks
the native hot water of Baden-Baden, with a spoonful
of salt from the Carlsbad springs dissolved in it.
That is not a dose to be forgotten right away.

They don't SELL this hot water; no, you go into the
great Trinkhalle, and stand around, first on one foot
and then on the other, while two or three young girls
sit pottering at some sort of ladylike sewing-work
in your neighborhood and can't seem to see you --polite
as three-dollar clerks in government offices.

By and by one of these rises painfully, and
"stretches"--stretches
fists and body heavenward till she raises her heels from
the floor, at the same time refreshing herself with a yawn
of such comprehensiveness that the bulk of her face disappears
behind her upper lip and one is able to see how she is
constructed inside--then she slowly closes her cavern,
brings down her fists and her heels, comes languidly forward,
contemplates you contemptuously, draws you a glass of hot water
and sets it down where you can get it by reaching for it. You
take it and say:

"How much?"--and she returns you, with elaborate indifference,
a beggar's answer:

"NACH BELIEBE" (what you please.)

This thing of using the common beggar's trick and the common
beggar's shibboleth to put you on your liberality when you
were expecting a simple straightforward commercial transaction,
adds a little to your prospering sense of irritation.
You ignore her reply, and ask again:

"How much?"

--and she calmly, indifferently, repeats:

"NACH BELIEBE."

You are getting angry, but you are trying not to show it;
you resolve to keep on asking your question till she changes
her answer, or at least her annoyingly indifferent manner.
Therefore, if your case be like mine, you two fools
stand there, and without perceptible emotion of any kind,
or any emphasis on any syllable, you look blandly into each
other's eyes, and hold the following idiotic conversation:

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

I do not know what another person would have done,
but at this point I gave up; that cast-iron indifference,
that tranquil contemptuousness, conquered me, and I struck
my colors. Now I knew she was used to receiving about a
penny from manly people who care nothing about the opinions
of scullery-maids, and about tuppence from moral cowards;
but I laid a silver twenty-five cent piece within her
reach and tried to shrivel her up with this sarcastic
speech:

"If it isn't enough, will you stoop sufficiently from
your official dignity to say so?"

She did not shrivel. Without deigning to look at me at all,
she languidly lifted the coin and bit it!--to see if it
was good. Then she turned her back and placidly waddled
to her former roost again, tossing the money into an open
till as she went along. She was victor to the last,
you see.

I have enlarged upon the ways of this girl because they
are typical; her manners are the manners of a goodly
number of the Baden-Baden shopkeepers. The shopkeeper
there swindles you if he can, and insults you whether
he succeeds in swindling you or not. The keepers of
baths also take great and patient pains to insult you.
The frowsy woman who sat at the desk in the lobby
of the great Friederichsbad and sold bath tickets,
not only insulted me twice every day, with rigid fidelity
to her great trust, but she took trouble enough to cheat
me out of a shilling, one day, to have fairly entitled
her to ten. Baden-Baden's splendid gamblers are gone,
only her microscopic knaves remain.

An English gentleman who had been living there
several years, said:

"If you could disguise your nationality, you would not
find any insolence here. These shopkeepers detest the
English and despise the Americans; they are rude to both,
more especially to ladies of your nationality and mine.
If these go shopping without a gentleman or a man-servant,
they are tolerably sure to be subjected to petty insolences--
insolences of manner and tone, rather than word,
though words that are hard to bear are not always wanting.
I know of an instance where a shopkeeper tossed a coin back
to an American lady with the remark, snappishly uttered,
'We don't take French money here.' And I know of a case
where an English lady said to one of these shopkeepers,
'Don't you think you ask too much for this article?'
and he replied with the question, 'Do you think you are
obliged to buy it?' However, these people are not impolite
to Russians or Germans. And as to rank, they worship that,
for they have long been used to generals and nobles.
If you wish to see what abysses servility can descend,
present yourself before a Baden-Baden shopkeeper in the
character of a Russian prince."

It is an inane town, filled with sham, and petty fraud,
and snobbery, but the baths are good. I spoke with
many people, and they were all agreed in that. I had
the twinges of rheumatism unceasingly during three years,
but the last one departed after a fortnight's bathing there,
and I have never had one since. I fully believe I left my
rheumatism in Baden-Baden. Baden-Baden is welcome to it.
It was little, but it was all I had to give. I would
have preferred to leave something that was catching,
but it was not in my power.

There are several hot springs there, and during two
thousand years they have poured forth a never-diminishing
abundance of the healing water. This water is conducted
in pipe to the numerous bath-houses, and is reduced to
an endurable temperature by the addition of cold water.
The new Friederichsbad is a very large and beautiful building,
and in it one may have any sort of bath that has ever
been invented, and with all the additions of herbs and
drugs that his ailment may need or that the physician
of the establishment may consider a useful thing to put
into the water. You go there, enter the great door,
get a bow graduated to your style and clothes from the
gorgeous portier, and a bath ticket and an insult from
the frowsy woman for a quarter; she strikes a bell and a
serving-man conducts you down a long hall and shuts you
into a commodious room which has a washstand, a mirror,
a bootjack, and a sofa in it, and there you undress
at your leisure.

The room is divided by a great curtain; you draw this
curtain aside, and find a large white marble bathtub,
with its rim sunk to the level of the floor,
and with three white marble steps leading down to it.
This tub is full of water which is as clear as crystal,
and is tempered to 28 degrees Re'aumur (about 95 degrees
Fahrenheit). Sunk into the floor, by the tub, is a covered
copper box which contains some warm towels and a sheet.
You look fully as white as an angel when you are stretched
out in that limpid bath. You remain in it ten minutes,
the first time, and afterward increase the duration from
day to day, till you reach twenty-five or thirty minutes.
There you stop. The appointments of the place are
so luxurious, the benefit so marked, the price so moderate,
and the insults so sure, that you very soon find yourself
adoring the Friederichsbad and infesting it.

We had a plain, simple, unpretending, good hotel,
in Baden-Baden--the Ho^tel de France--and alongside my room
I had a giggling, cackling, chattering family who always
went to bed just two hours after me and always got up two
hours ahead of me. But this is common in German hotels;
the people generally go to bed long after eleven and get
up long before eight. The partitions convey sound
like a drum-head, and everybody knows it; but no matter,
a German family who are all kindness and consideration
in the daytime make apparently no effort to moderate
their noises for your benefit at night. They will sing,
laugh, and talk loudly, and bang furniture around in a most
pitiless way. If you knock on your wall appealingly,
they will quiet down and discuss the matter softly among
themselves for a moment--then, like the mice, they fall
to persecuting you again, and as vigorously as before.
They keep cruelly late and early hours, for such noisy folk.

Of course, when one begins to find fault with foreign
people's ways, he is very likely to get a reminder to look
nearer home, before he gets far with it. I open my note-book
to see if I can find some more information of a valuable
nature about Baden-Baden, and the first thing I fall upon is
this:

"BADEN-BADEN (no date). Lot of vociferous Americans
at breakfast this morning. Talking AT everybody,
while pretending to talk among themselves. On their
first travels, manifestly. Showing off. The usual
signs--airy, easy-going references to grand distances
and foreign places. 'Well GOOD-by, old fellow--
if I don't run across you in Italy, you hunt me up in
London before you sail.'"

The next item which I find in my note-book is this one:

"The fact that a band of 6,000 Indians are now murdering
our frontiersmen at their impudent leisure, and that we
are only able to send 1,200 soldiers against them,
is utilized here to discourage emigration to America.
The common people think the Indians are in New Jersey."

This is a new and peculiar argument against keeping our army
down to a ridiculous figure in the matter of numbers.
It is rather a striking one, too. I have not distorted
the truth in saying that the facts in the above item,
about the army and the Indians, are made use of to
discourage emigration to America. That the common
people should be rather foggy in their geography,
and foggy as to the location of the Indians, is a matter
for amusement, maybe, but not of surprise.

There is an interesting old cemetery in Baden-Baden, and
we spent several pleasant hours in wandering through it
and spelling out the inscriptions on the aged tombstones.
Apparently after a man has laid there a century or two,
and has had a good many people buried on top of him,
it is considered that his tombstone is not needed by him
any longer. I judge so from the fact that hundreds
of old gravestones have been removed from the graves
and placed against the inner walls of the cemetery.
What artists they had in the old times! They chiseled angels
and cherubs and devils and skeletons on the tombstones
in the most lavish and generous way--as to supply--but
curiously grotesque and outlandish as to form. It is not
always easy to tell which of the figures belong among
the blest and which of them among the opposite party.
But there was an inscription, in French, on one of those
old stones, which was quaint and pretty, and was plainly
not the work of any other than a poet. It was to this
effect:

    Here Reposes in God, Caroline de Clery, a Religieuse
    of St. Denis aged 83 years--and blind. The light
    was restored to her in Baden the 5th of January, 1839

We made several excursions on foot to the neighboring villages,
over winding and beautiful roads and through enchanting
woodland scenery. The woods and roads were similar to those
at Heidelberg, but not so bewitching. I suppose that roads
and woods which are up to the Heidelberg mark are rare in the
world.

Once we wandered clear away to La Favorita Palace,
which is several miles from Baden-Baden. The grounds
about the palace were fine; the palace was a curiosity.
It was built by a Margravine in 1725, and remains as she
left it at her death. We wandered through a great many
of its rooms, and they all had striking peculiarities
of decoration. For instance, the walls of one room were
pretty completely covered with small pictures of the
Margravine in all conceivable varieties of fanciful costumes,
some of them male.

The walls of another room were covered with grotesquely
and elaborately figured hand-wrought tapestry.
The musty ancient beds remained in the chambers,
and their quilts and curtains and canopies were decorated
with curious handwork, and the walls and ceilings frescoed
with historical and mythological scenes in glaring colors.
There was enough crazy and rotten rubbish in the building
to make a true brick-a-bracker green with envy.
A painting in the dining-hall verged upon the indelicate--
but then the Margravine was herself a trifle indelicate.

It is in every way a wildly and picturesquely decorated house,
and brimful of interest as a reflection of the character
and tastes of that rude bygone time.

In the grounds, a few rods from the palace, stands the
Margravine's chapel, just as she left it--a coarse
wooden structure, wholly barren of ornament. It is said
that the Margravine would give herself up to debauchery
and exceedingly fast living for several months at a time,
and then retire to this miserable wooden den and spend
a few months in repenting and getting ready for another
good time. She was a devoted Catholic, and was perhaps
quite a model sort of a Christian as Christians went then,
in high life.

Tradition says she spent the last two years of her life in the
strange den I have been speaking of, after having indulged
herself in one final, triumphant, and satisfying spree.
She shut herself up there, without company, and without
even a servant, and so abjured and forsook the world.
In her little bit of a kitchen she did her own cooking;
she wore a hair shirt next the skin, and castigated herself
with whips--these aids to grace are exhibited there yet.
She prayed and told her beads, in another little room,
before a waxen Virgin niched in a little box against the wall;
she bedded herself like a slave.

In another small room is an unpainted wooden table,
and behind it sit half-life-size waxen figures of the
Holy Family, made by the very worst artist that ever
lived, perhaps, and clothed in gaudy, flimsy drapery.
[1] The margravine used to bring her meals to this table
and DINE WITH THE HOLY FAMILY. What an idea that was!
What a grisly spectacle it must have been! Imagine it:
Those rigid, shock-headed figures, with corpsy complexions
and fish glass eyes, occupying one side of the table
in the constrained attitudes and dead fixedness that
distinguish all men that are born of wax, and this wrinkled,
smoldering old fire-eater occupying the other side,
mumbling her prayers and munching her sausages in the ghostly
stillness and shadowy indistinctness of a winter twilight.
It makes one feel crawly even to think of it.

1. The Savior was represented as a lad of about fifteen
    years of age. This figure had lost one eye.

In this sordid place, and clothed, bedded, and fed like
a pauper, this strange princess lived and worshiped during
two years, and in it she died. Two or three hundred
years ago, this would have made the poor den holy ground;
and the church would have set up a miracle-factory there
and made plenty of money out of it. The den could be moved
into some portions of France and made a good property even now.

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