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Mark Twain > A Tramp Abroad > Chapter XXII

A Tramp Abroad

Chapter XXII


[The Black Forest and Its Treasures]

From Baden-Baden we made the customary trip into the
Black Forest. We were on foot most of the time. One cannot
describe those noble woods, nor the feeling with which they
inspire him. A feature of the feeling, however, is a deep
sense of contentment; another feature of it is a buoyant,
boyish gladness; and a third and very conspicuous feature
of it is one's sense of the remoteness of the work-day
world and his entire emancipation from it and its affairs.

Those woods stretch unbroken over a vast region;
and everywhere they are such dense woods, and so still,
and so piney and fragrant. The stems of the trees are trim
and straight, and in many places all the ground is hidden
for miles under a thick cushion of moss of a vivid green color,
with not a decayed or ragged spot in its surface, and not
a fallen leaf or twig to mar its immaculate tidiness.
A rich cathedral gloom pervades the pillared aisles;
so the stray flecks of sunlight that strike a trunk
here and a bough yonder are strongly accented,
and when they strike the moss they fairly seem to burn.
But the weirdest effect, and the most enchanting is that
produced by the diffused light of the low afternoon sun;
no single ray is able to pierce its way in, then, but the
diffused light takes color from moss and foliage,
and pervades the place like a faint, greet-tinted mist,
the theatrical fire of fairyland. The suggestion of mystery
and the supernatural which haunts the forest at all times
is intensified by this unearthly glow.

We found the Black Forest farmhouses and villages
all that the Black Forest stories have pictured them.
The first genuine specimen which we came upon was
the mansion of a rich farmer and member of the Common
Council of the parish or district. He was an important
personage in the land and so was his wife also,
of course. His daughter was the "catch" of the region,
and she may be already entering into immortality as the
heroine of one of Auerbach's novels, for all I know.
We shall see, for if he puts her in I shall recognize her
by her Black Forest clothes, and her burned complexion,
her plump figure, her fat hands, her dull expression,
her gentle spirit, her generous feet, her bonnetless head,
and the plaited tails of hemp-colored hair hanging down
her back.

The house was big enough for a hotel; it was a hundred
feet long and fifty wide, and ten feet high, from ground
to eaves; but from the eaves to the comb of the mighty roof
was as much as forty feet, or maybe even more. This roof
was of ancient mud-colored straw thatch a foot thick,
and was covered all over, except in a few trifling spots,
with a thriving and luxurious growth of green vegetation,
mainly moss. The mossless spots were places where
repairs had been made by the insertion of bright new
masses of yellow straw. The eaves projected far down,
like sheltering, hospitable wings. Across the gable that
fronted the road, and about ten feet above the ground,
ran a narrow porch, with a wooden railing; a row of
small windows filled with very small panes looked upon
the porch. Above were two or three other little windows,
one clear up under the sharp apex of the roof.
Before the ground-floor door was a huge pile of manure.
The door of the second-story room on the side of the house
was open, and occupied by the rear elevation of a cow.
Was this probably the drawing-room? All of the front
half of the house from the ground up seemed to be
occupied by the people, the cows, and the chickens,
and all the rear half by draught-animals and hay.
But the chief feature, all around this house, was the big
heaps of manure.

We became very familiar with the fertilizer in the Forest.
We fell unconsciously into the habit of judging of a man's
station in life by this outward and eloquent sign.
Sometimes we said, "Here is a poor devil, this is manifest."
When we saw a stately accumulation, we said, "Here is
a banker." When we encountered a country-seat surrounded
by an Alpine pomp of manure, we said, "Doubtless a duke
lives here."

The importance of this feature has not been properly
magnified in the Black Forest stories. Manure is evidently
the Black-Forester's main treasure--his coin, his jewel,
his pride, his Old Master, his ceramics, his bric-a-brac,
his darling, his title to public consideration,
envy, veneration, and his first solicitude when he gets
ready to make his will. The true Black Forest novel,
if it is ever written, will be skeletoned somewhat in this way:

SKELETON FOR A BLACK FOREST NOVEL

Rich old farmer, named Huss. Has inherited great wealth
of manure, and by diligence has added to it. It is
double-starred in Baedeker. [1] The Black forest artist
paints it--his masterpiece. The king comes to see it.
Gretchen Huss, daughter and heiress. Paul Hoch,
young neighbor, suitor for Gretchen's hand--ostensibly;
he really wants the manure. Hoch has a good many cart-loads
of the Black Forest currency himself, and therefore is a
good catch; but he is sordid, mean, and without sentiment,
whereas Gretchen is all sentiment and poetry.
Hans Schmidt, young neighbor, full of sentiment,
full of poetry, loves Gretchen, Gretchen loves him.
But he has no manure. Old Huss forbids him in the house.
His heart breaks, he goes away to die in the woods,
far from the cruel world--for he says, bitterly, "What is man,
without manure?"

1. When Baedeker's guide-books mention a thing and put
    two stars (**) after it, it means well worth visiting.
    M.T.

[Interval of six months.]

Paul Hoch comes to old Huss and says, "I am at last
as rich as you required--come and view the pile."
Old Huss views it and says, "It is sufficient--take
her and be happy,"--meaning Gretchen.

[Interval of two weeks.]

Wedding party assembled in old Huss's drawing-room. Hoch
placid and content, Gretchen weeping over her hard fate.
Enter old Huss's head bookkeeper. Huss says fiercely,
"I gave you three weeks to find out why your books
don't balance, and to prove that you are not a defaulter;
the time is up--find me the missing property or you go
to prison as a thief." Bookkeeper: "I have found it."
"Where?" Bookkeeper (sternly--tragically): "In the bridegroom's
pile!--behold the thief--see him blench and tremble!"
[Sensation.] Paul Hoch: Lost, lost!"--falls over the cow
in a swoon and is handcuffed. Gretchen: "Saved!" Falls
over the calf in a swoon of joy, but is caught in the arms
of Hans Schmidt, who springs in at that moment. Old Huss:
"What, you here, varlet? Unhand the maid and quit the place."
Hans (still supporting the insensible girl): "Never! Cruel
old man, know that I come with claims which even you
cannot despise."

Huss: "What, YOU? name them."

Hans: "Listen then. The world has forsaken me, I forsook
the world, I wandered in the solitude of the forest,
longing for death but finding none. I fed upon roots,
and in my bitterness I dug for the bitterest,
loathing the sweeter kind. Digging, three days agone,
I struck a manure mine!--a Golconda, a limitless Bonanza,
of solid manure! I can buy you ALL, and have mountain
ranges of manure left! Ha-ha, NOW thou smilest a smile!"
[Immense sensation.] Exhibition of specimens from the mine.
Old Huss (enthusiastically): "Wake her up, shake her up,
noble young man, she is yours!" Wedding takes place on
the spot; bookkeeper restored to his office and emoluments;
Paul Hoch led off to jail. The Bonanza king of the Black
Forest lives to a good old age, blessed with the love of his
wife and of his twenty-seven children, and the still sweeter
envy of everybody around.

We took our noon meal of fried trout one day at the Plow Inn,
in a very pretty village (Ottenhoefen), and then went into
the public room to rest and smoke. There we found nine
or ten Black Forest grandees assembled around a table.
They were the Common Council of the parish. They had
gathered there at eight o'clock that morning to elect
a new member, and they had now been drinking beer four
hours at the new member's expense. They were men of fifty
or sixty years of age, with grave good-natured faces,
and were all dressed in the costume made familiar to us
by the Black Forest stories; broad, round-topped black felt
hats with the brims curled up all round; long red waistcoats
with large metal buttons, black alpaca coats with the
waists up between the shoulders. There were no speeches,
there was but little talk, there were no frivolities;
the Council filled themselves gradually, steadily, but surely,
with beer, and conducted themselves with sedate decorum,
as became men of position, men of influence, men of manure.

We had a hot afternoon tramp up the valley, along the grassy
bank of a rushing stream of clear water, past farmhouses,
water-mills, and no end of wayside crucifixes and saints
and Virgins. These crucifixes, etc., are set up in
memory of departed friends, by survivors, and are almost
as frequent as telegraph-poles are in other lands.

We followed the carriage-road, and had our usual luck;
we traveled under a beating sun, and always saw the shade
leave the shady places before we could get to them.
In all our wanderings we seldom managed to strike
a piece of road at its time for being shady. We had a
particularly hot time of it on that particular afternoon,
and with no comfort but what we could get out of the fact
that the peasants at work away up on the steep mountainsides
above our heads were even worse off than we were.
By and by it became impossible to endure the intolerable
glare and heat any longer; so we struck across the ravine
and entered the deep cool twilight of the forest, to hunt
for what the guide-book called the "old road."

We found an old road, and it proved eventually to be the
right one, though we followed it at the time with the conviction
that it was the wrong one. If it was the wrong one there
could be no use in hurrying; therefore we did not hurry,
but sat down frequently on the soft moss and enjoyed
the restful quiet and shade of the forest solitudes.
There had been distractions in the carriage-road--
school-children, peasants, wagons, troops of
pedestrianizing students from all over Germany--
but we had the old road to ourselves.

Now and then, while we rested, we watched the laborious
ant at his work. I found nothing new in him--certainly
nothing to change my opinion of him. It seems to me that
in the matter of intellect the ant must be a strangely
overrated bird. During many summers, now, I have watched him,
when I ought to have been in better business, and I have
not yet come across a living ant that seemed to have any
more sense than a dead one. I refer to the ordinary ant,
of course; I have had no experience of those wonderful
Swiss and African ones which vote, keep drilled armies,
hold slaves, and dispute about religion. Those particular
ants may be all that the naturalist paints them,
but I am persuaded that the average ant is a sham.
I admit his industry, of course; he is the hardest-working
creature in the world--when anybody is looking--but his
leather-headedness is the point I make against him.
He goes out foraging, he makes a capture, and then what
does he do? Go home? No--he goes anywhere but home.
He doesn't know where home is. His home may be only
three feet away--no matter, he can't find it. He makes
his capture, as I have said; it is generally something
which can be of no sort of use to himself or anybody else;
it is usually seven times bigger than it ought to be;
he hunts out the awkwardest place to take hold of it;
he lifts it bodily up in the air by main force, and starts;
not toward home, but in the opposite direction; not calmly
and wisely, but with a frantic haste which is wasteful
of his strength; he fetches up against a pebble, and instead
of going around it, he climbs over it backward dragging
his booty after him, tumbles down on the other side,
jumps up in a passion, kicks the dust off his clothes,
moistens his hands, grabs his property viciously, yanks it
this way, then that, shoves it ahead of him a moment,
turns tail and lugs it after him another moment, gets madder
and madder, then presently hoists it into the air and goes
tearing away in an entirely new direction; comes to a weed;
it never occurs to him to go around it; no, he must climb it;
and he does climb it, dragging his worthless property
to the top--which is as bright a thing to do as it would
be for me to carry a sack of flour from Heidelberg to Paris
by way of Strasburg steeple; when he gets up there he
finds that that is not the place; takes a cursory glance
at the scenery and either climbs down again or tumbles down,
and starts off once more--as usual, in a new direction.
At the end of half an hour, he fetches up within six inches
of the place he started from and lays his burden down;
meantime he has been over all the ground for two yards around,
and climbed all the weeds and pebbles he came across.
Now he wipes the sweat from his brow, strokes his limbs,
and then marches aimlessly off, in as violently a hurry
as ever. He does not remember to have ever seen it before;
he looks around to see which is not the way home, grabs his
bundle and starts; he goes through the same adventures he
had before; finally stops to rest, and a friend comes along.
Evidently the friend remarks that a last year's grasshopper
leg is a very noble acquisition, and inquires where he
got it. Evidently the proprietor does not remember
exactly where he did get it, but thinks he got it "around
here somewhere." Evidently the friend contracts to help
him freight it home. Then, with a judgment peculiarly
antic (pun not intended), then take hold of opposite ends
of that grasshopper leg and begin to tug with all their
might in opposite directions. Presently they take a rest
and confer together. They decide that something is wrong,
they can't make out what. Then they go at it again,
just as before. Same result. Mutual recriminations follow.
Evidently each accuses the other of being an obstructionist.
They lock themselves together and chew each other's jaws
for a while; then they roll and tumble on the ground till
one loses a horn or a leg and has to haul off for repairs.
They make up and go to work again in the same old insane way,
but the crippled ant is at a disadvantage; tug as he may,
the other one drags off the booty and him at the end of it.
Instead of giving up, he hangs on, and gets his shins
bruised against every obstruction that comes in the way.
By and by, when that grasshopper leg has been dragged
all over the same old ground once more, it is finally
dumped at about the spot where it originally lay,
the two perspiring ants inspect it thoughtfully and decide
that dried grasshopper legs are a poor sort of property
after all, and then each starts off in a different
direction to see if he can't find an old nail or something
else that is heavy enough to afford entertainment and at
the same time valueless enough to make an ant want to own it.

There in the Black Forest, on the mountainside,
I saw an ant go through with such a performance as this
with a dead spider of fully ten times his own weight.
The spider was not quite dead, but too far gone to resist.
He had a round body the size of a pea. The little ant--
observing that I was noticing--turned him on his back,
sunk his fangs into his throat, lifted him into the air and
started vigorously off with him, stumbling over little pebbles,
stepping on the spider's legs and tripping himself up,
dragging him backward, shoving him bodily ahead, dragging him
up stones six inches high instead of going around them,
climbing weeds twenty times his own height and jumping
from their summits--and finally leaving him in the middle
of the road to be confiscated by any other fool of an
ant that wanted him. I measured the ground which this
ass traversed, and arrived at the conclusion that what he
had accomplished inside of twenty minutes would constitute
some such job as this--relatively speaking--for a man;
to wit: to strap two eight-hundred-pound horses together,
carry them eighteen hundred feet, mainly over (not around)
boulders averaging six feet high, and in the course
of the journey climb up and jump from the top of one
precipice like Niagara, and three steeples, each a hundred
and twenty feet high; and then put the horses down,
in an exposed place, without anybody to watch them,
and go off to indulge in some other idiotic miracle for
vanity's sake.

Science has recently discovered that the ant does not
lay up anything for winter use. This will knock him
out of literature, to some extent. He does not work,
except when people are looking, and only then when the
observer has a green, naturalistic look, and seems to be
taking notes. This amounts to deception, and will injure
him for the Sunday-schools. He has not judgment enough
to know what is good to eat from what isn't. This amounts
to ignorance, and will impair the world's respect for him.
He cannot stroll around a stump and find his way home again.
This amounts to idiocy, and once the damaging fact
is established, thoughtful people will cease to look
up to him, the sentimental will cease to fondle him.
His vaunted industry is but a vanity and of no effect,
since he never gets home with anything he starts with.
This disposes of the last remnant of his reputation
and wholly destroys his main usefulness as a moral agent,
since it will make the sluggard hesitate to go to him
any more. It is strange, beyond comprehension, that so
manifest a humbug as the ant has been able to fool so
many nations and keep it up so many ages without being
found out.

The ant is strong, but we saw another strong thing,
where we had not suspected the presence of much muscular
power before. A toadstool--that vegetable which springs
to full growth in a single night--had torn loose and
lifted a matted mass of pine needles and dirt of twice
its own bulk into the air, and supported it there,
like a column supporting a shed. Ten thousand toadstools,
with the right purchase, could lift a man, I suppose.
But what good would it do?

All our afternoon's progress had been uphill. About five
or half past we reached the summit, and all of a sudden
the dense curtain of the forest parted and we looked
down into a deep and beautiful gorge and out over a
wide panorama of wooded mountains with their summits
shining in the sun and their glade-furrowed sides dimmed
with purple shade. The gorge under our feet--called
Allerheiligen--afforded room in the grassy level at its
head for a cozy and delightful human nest, shut away
from the world and its botherations, and consequently
the monks of the old times had not failed to spy it out;
and here were the brown and comely ruins of their church
and convent to prove that priests had as fine an instinct
seven hundred years ago in ferreting out the choicest
nooks and corners in a land as priests have today.

A big hotel crowds the ruins a little, now, and drives
a brisk trade with summer tourists. We descended
into the gorge and had a supper which would have been
very satisfactory if the trout had not been boiled.
The Germans are pretty sure to boil a trout or anything
else if left to their own devices. This is an argument
of some value in support of the theory that they were
the original colonists of the wild islands of the coast
of Scotland. A schooner laden with oranges was wrecked
upon one of those islands a few years ago, and the gentle
savages rendered the captain such willing assistance
that he gave them as many oranges as they wanted.
Next day he asked them how they liked them. They shook
their heads and said:

"Baked, they were tough; and even boiled, they warn't
things for a hungry man to hanker after."

We went down the glen after supper. It is beautiful--a
mixture of sylvan loveliness and craggy wildness.
A limpid torrent goes whistling down the glen, and toward
the foot of it winds through a narrow cleft between lofty
precipices and hurls itself over a succession of falls.
After one passes the last of these he has a backward
glimpse at the falls which is very pleasing--they rise
in a seven-stepped stairway of foamy and glittering cascades,
and make a picture which is as charming as it is unusual.


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