The Complete Works of Mark Twain


 
 
Mark Twain > A Tramp Abroad > Chapter XXVII

A Tramp Abroad

Chapter XXVII


[I Spare an Awful Bore]

Close by the Lion of Lucerne is what they call the
"Glacier Garden"--and it is the only one in the world.
It is on high ground. Four or five years ago,
some workmen who were digging foundations for a house
came upon this interesting relic of a long-departed age.
Scientific men perceived in it a confirmation of their
theories concerning the glacial period; so through
their persuasions the little tract of ground was bought
and permanently protected against being built upon.
The soil was removed, and there lay the rasped and guttered
track which the ancient glacier had made as it moved
along upon its slow and tedious journey. This track
was perforated by huge pot-shaped holes in the bed-rock,
formed by the furious washing-around in them of boulders
by the turbulent torrent which flows beneath all glaciers.
These huge round boulders still remain in the holes;
they and the walls of the holes are worn smooth by
the long-continued chafing which they gave each other
in those old days. It took a mighty force to churn
these big lumps of stone around in that vigorous way.
The neighboring country had a very different shape,
at that time--the valleys have risen up and become hills,
since, and the hills have become valleys. The boulders
discovered in the pots had traveled a great distance,
for there is no rock like them nearer than the distant
Rhone Glacier.

For some days we were content to enjoy looking at the blue
lake Lucerne and at the piled-up masses of snow-mountains
that border it all around--an enticing spectacle,
this last, for there is a strange and fascinating beauty
and charm about a majestic snow-peak with the sun blazing
upon it or the moonlight softly enriching it--but finally
we concluded to try a bit of excursioning around on
a steamboat, and a dash on foot at the Rigi. Very well,
we had a delightful trip to Fluelen, on a breezy, sunny day.
Everybody sat on the upper deck, on benches, under an awning;
everybody talked, laughed, and exclaimed at the wonder scenery;
in truth, a trip on that lake is almost the perfection
of pleasuring. The mountains were a never-ceasing marvel.
Sometimes they rose straight up out of the lake,
and towered aloft and overshadowed our pygmy steamer
with their prodigious bulk in the most impressive way.
Not snow-clad mountains, these, yet they climbed high
enough toward the sky to meet the clouds and veil their
foreheads in them. They were not barren and repulsive,
but clothed in green, and restful and pleasant to the eye.
And they were so almost straight-up-and-down, sometimes,
that one could not imagine a man being able to keep
his footing upon such a surface, yet there are paths,
and the Swiss people go up and down them every day.

Sometimes one of these monster precipices had the slight
inclination of the huge ship-houses in dockyards--
then high aloft, toward the sky, it took a little
stronger inclination, like that of a mansard roof--and
perched on this dizzy mansard one's eye detected little
things like martin boxes, and presently perceived that
these were the dwellings of peasants--an airy place
for a home, truly. And suppose a peasant should walk
in his sleep, or his child should fall out of the front
yard?--the friends would have a tedious long journey down
out of those cloud-heights before they found the remains.
And yet those far-away homes looked ever so seductive,
they were so remote from the troubled world, they dozed
in such an atmosphere of peace and dreams--surely no one
who has learned to live up there would ever want
to live on a meaner level.

We swept through the prettiest little curving arms
of the lake, among these colossal green walls,
enjoying new delights, always, as the stately panorama
unfolded itself before us and rerolled and hid itself
behind us; and now and then we had the thrilling surprise
of bursting suddenly upon a tremendous white mass like the
distant and dominating Jungfrau, or some kindred giant,
looming head and shoulders above a tumbled waste of lesser Alps.

Once, while I was hungrily taking in one of these surprises,
and doing my best to get all I possibly could of it while it
should last, I was interrupted by a young and care-free voice:

"You're an American, I think--so'm I."

He was about eighteen, or possibly nineteen; slender and
of medium height; open, frank, happy face; a restless
but independent eye; a snub nose, which had the air
of drawing back with a decent reserve from the silky
new-born mustache below it until it should be introduced;
a loosely hung jaw, calculated to work easily in the sockets.
He wore a low-crowned, narrow-brimmed straw hat,
with a broad blue ribbon around it which had a white
anchor embroidered on it in front; nobby short-tailed
coat, pantaloons, vest, all trim and neat and up with
the fashion; red-striped stockings, very low-quarter
patent-leather shoes, tied with black ribbon; blue ribbon
around his neck, wide-open collar; tiny diamond studs;
wrinkleless kids; projecting cuffs, fastened with large
oxidized silver sleeve-buttons, bearing the device
of a dog's face--English pug. He carries a slim cane,
surmounted with an English pug's head with red glass eyes.
Under his arm he carried a German grammar--Otto's. His hair
was short, straight, and smooth, and presently when he turned
his head a moment, I saw that it was nicely parted behind.
He took a cigarette out of a dainty box, stuck it into
a meerschaum holder which he carried in a morocco case,
and reached for my cigar. While he was lighting, I said:

"Yes--I am an American."

"I knew it--I can always tell them. What ship did you
come over in?"

"HOLSATIA."

"We came in the BATAVIA--Cunard, you know. What kind
of passage did you have?"

"Tolerably rough."

"So did we. Captain said he'd hardly ever seen it rougher.
Where are you from?"

"New England."

"So'm I. I'm from New Bloomfield. Anybody with you?"

"Yes--a friend."

"Our whole family's along. It's awful slow, going around
alone--don't you think so?"

"Rather slow."

"Ever been over here before?"

"Yes."

"I haven't. My first trip. But we've been all around--Paris
and everywhere. I'm to enter Harvard next year.
Studying German all the time, now. Can't enter till I
know German. I know considerable French--I get along
pretty well in Paris, or anywhere where they speak French.
What hotel are you stopping at?"

"Schweitzerhof."

"No! is that so? I never see you in the reception-room.
I go to the reception-room a good deal of the time,
because there's so many Americans there. I make lots
of acquaintances. I know an American as soon as I see
him--and so I speak to him and make his acquaintance.
I like to be always making acquaintances--don't you?"

"Lord, yes!"

"You see it breaks up a trip like this, first rate.
I never got bored on a trip like this, if I can
make acquaintances and have somebody to talk to.
But I think a trip like this would be an awful bore,
if a body couldn't find anybody to get acquainted with
and talk to on a trip like this. I'm fond of talking,
ain't you?

"Passionately."

"Have you felt bored, on this trip?"

"Not all the time, part of it."

"That's it!--you see you ought to go around and get acquainted,
and talk. That's my way. That's the way I always do--I
just go 'round, 'round, 'round and talk, talk, talk--I
never get bored. You been up the Rigi yet?"

"No."

"Going?"

"I think so."

"What hotel you going to stop at?"

"I don't know. Is there more than one?"

"Three. You stop at the Schreiber--you'll find it full
of Americans. What ship did you say you came over in?"

"CITY OF ANTWERP."

"German, I guess. You going to Geneva?"

"Yes."

"What hotel you going to stop at?"

"Hotel de l''Ecu de G'en`eve."

"Don't you do it! No Americans there! You stop at one
of those big hotels over the bridge--they're packed
full of Americans."

"But I want to practice my Arabic."

"Good gracious, do you speak Arabic?"

"Yes--well enough to get along."

"Why, hang it, you won't get along in Geneva--THEY don't
speak Arabic, they speak French. What hotel are you
stopping at here?"

"Hotel Pension-Beaurivage."

"Sho, you ought to stop at the Schweitzerhof. Didn't you
know the Schweitzerhof was the best hotel in Switzerland?--
look at your Baedeker."

"Yes, I know--but I had an idea there warn't any
Americans there."

"No Americans! Why, bless your soul, it's just alive with
them! I'm in the great reception-room most all the time.
I make lots of acquaintances there. Not as many as I did
at first, because now only the new ones stop in there--
the others go right along through. Where are you from?"

"Arkansaw."

"Is that so? I'm from New England--New Bloomfield's my town
when I'm at home. I'm having a mighty good time today,
ain't you?"

"Divine."

"That's what I call it. I like this knocking around,
loose and easy, and making acquaintances and talking.
I know an American, soon as I see him; so I go and speak
to him and make his acquaintance. I ain't ever bored,
on a trip like this, if I can make new acquaintances and talk.
I'm awful fond of talking when I can get hold of the right
kind of a person, ain't you?"

"I prefer it to any other dissipation."

"That's my notion, too. Now some people like to take
a book and sit down and read, and read, and read, or moon
around yawping at the lake or these mountains and things,
but that ain't my way; no, sir, if they like it, let 'em do it,
I don't object; but as for me, talking's what _I_ like.
You been up the Rigi?"

"Yes."

"What hotel did you stop at?"

"Schreiber."

"That's the place!--I stopped there too. FULL of Americans,
WASN'T it? It always is--always is. That's what they say.
Everybody says that. What ship did you come over in?"

"VILLE DE PARIS."

"French, I reckon. What kind of a passage did ... excuse me
a minute, there's some Americans I haven't seen before."

And away he went. He went uninjured, too--I had the murderous
impulse to harpoon him in the back with my alpenstock,
but as I raised the weapon the disposition left me;
I found I hadn't the heart to kill him, he was such
a joyous, innocent, good-natured numbskull.

Half an hour later I was sitting on a bench inspecting,
with strong interest, a noble monolith which we were
skimming by--a monolith not shaped by man, but by Nature's
free great hand--a massy pyramidal rock eighty feet high,
devised by Nature ten million years ago against the day
when a man worthy of it should need it for his monument.
The time came at last, and now this grand remembrancer
bears Schiller's name in huge letters upon its face.
Curiously enough, this rock was not degraded or defiled
in any way. It is said that two years ago a stranger let
himself down from the top of it with ropes and pulleys,
and painted all over it, in blue letters bigger than those in
Schiller's name, these words:

"Try Sozodont;" "Buy Sun Stove Polish;" "Helmbold's Buchu;"
"Try Benzaline for the Blood."

He was captured and it turned out that he was an American.
Upon his trial the judge said to him:

"You are from a land where any insolent that wants to is
privileged to profane and insult Nature, and, through her,
Nature's God, if by so doing he can put a sordid penny
in his pocket. But here the case is different. Because you
are a foreigner and ignorant, I will make your sentence light;
if you were a native I would deal strenuously with you.
Hear and obey: --You will immediately remove every trace
of your offensive work from the Schiller monument; you pay
a fine of ten thousand francs; you will suffer two years'
imprisonment at hard labor; you will then be horsewhipped,
tarred and feathered, deprived of your ears, ridden on a
rail to the confines of the canton, and banished forever.
The severest penalties are omitted in your case--not as
a grace to you, but to that great republic which had the
misfortune to give you birth."

The steamer's benches were ranged back to back across
the deck. My back hair was mingling innocently with
the back hair of a couple of ladies. Presently they
were addressed by some one and I overheard this conversation:

"You are Americans, I think? So'm I."

"Yes--we are Americans."

"I knew it--I can always tell them. What ship did you
come over in?"

"CITY OF CHESTER."

"Oh, yes--Inman line. We came in the BATAVIA--Cunard
you know. What kind of a passage did you have?"

"Pretty fair."

"That was luck. We had it awful rough. Captain said
he'd hardly seen it rougher. Where are you from?"

"New Jersey."

"So'm I. No--I didn't mean that; I'm from New England.
New Bloomfield's my place. These your children?--belong
to both of you?"

"Only to one of us; they are mine; my friend is not married."

"Single, I reckon? So'm I. Are you two ladies traveling alone?"

"No--my husband is with us."

"Our whole family's along. It's awful slow, going around
alone--don't you think so?"

"I suppose it must be."

"Hi, there's Mount Pilatus coming in sight again.
Named after Pontius Pilate, you know, that shot the apple
off of William Tell's head. Guide-book tells all about it,
they say. I didn't read it--an American told me. I don't
read when I'm knocking around like this, having a good time.
Did you ever see the chapel where William Tell used
to preach?"

"I did not know he ever preached there."

"Oh, yes, he did. That American told me so. He don't
ever shut up his guide-book. He knows more about this lake
than the fishes in it. Besides, they CALL it 'Tell's
Chapel'--you know that yourself. You ever been over here
before?"

"Yes."

"I haven't. It's my first trip. But we've been all around
--Paris and everywhere. I'm to enter Harvard next year.
Studying German all the time now. Can't enter till I
know German. This book's Otto's grammar. It's a mighty
good book to get the ICH HABE GEHABT HABEN's out of.
But I don't really study when I'm knocking around this way.
If the notion takes me, I just run over my little
old ICH HABE GEHABT, DU HAST GEHABT, ER HAT GEHABT,
WIR HABEN GEHABT, IHR HABEN GEHABT, SIE HABEN GEHABT
--kind of 'Now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep' fashion, you know,
and after that, maybe I don't buckle to it for three days.
It's awful undermining to the intellect, German is;
you want to take it in small doses, or first you know
your brains all run together, and you feel them sloshing
around in your head same as so much drawn butter.
But French is different; FRENCH ain't anything. I ain't
any more afraid of French than a tramp's afraid of pie; I can
rattle off my little J'AI, TU AS, IL A, and the rest of it,
just as easy as a-b-c. I get along pretty well in Paris,
or anywhere where they speak French. What hotel are you
stopping at?"

"The Schweitzerhof."

"No! is that so? I never see you in the big reception-room.
I go in there a good deal of the time, because there's
so many Americans there. I make lots of acquaintances.
You been up the Rigi yet?"

"No."

"Going?"

"We think of it."

"What hotel you going to stop at?"

"I don't know."

"Well, then you stop at the Schreiber--it's full of Americans.
What ship did you come over in?"

"CITY OF CHESTER."

"Oh, yes, I remember I asked you that before. But I
always ask everybody what ship they came over in, and so
sometimes I forget and ask again. You going to Geneva?"

"Yes."

"What hotel you going to stop at?"

"We expect to stop in a pension."

"I don't hardly believe you'll like that; there's very few
Americans in the pensions. What hotel are you stopping
at here?"

"The Schweitzerhof."

"Oh, yes. I asked you that before, too. But I always
ask everybody what hotel they're stopping at, and so I've
got my head all mixed up with hotels. But it makes talk,
and I love to talk. It refreshes me up so--don't it
you--on a trip like this?"

"Yes--sometimes."

"Well, it does me, too. As long as I'm talking I never
feel bored--ain't that the way with you?"

"Yes--generally. But there are exception to the rule."

"Oh, of course. _I_ don't care to talk to everybody, MYSELF.
If a person starts in to jabber-jabber-jabber about scenery,
and history, and pictures, and all sorts of tiresome things,
I get the fan-tods mighty soon. I say 'Well, I must be going
now--hope I'll see you again'--and then I take a walk. Where you
from?"

"New Jersey."

"Why, bother it all, I asked you THAT before, too.
Have you seen the Lion of Lucerne?"

"Not yet."

"Nor I, either. But the man who told me about
Mount Pilatus says it's one of the things to see.
It's twenty-eight feet long. It don't seem reasonable,
but he said so, anyway. He saw it yesterday; said it
was dying, then, so I reckon it's dead by this time.
But that ain't any matter, of course they'll stuff it.
Did you say the children are yours--or HERS?"

"Mine."

"Oh, so you did. Are you going up the ... no, I asked
you that. What ship ... no, I asked you that, too.
What hotel are you ... no, you told me that.
Let me see ... um .... Oh, what kind of voy ... no,
we've been over that ground, too. Um ... um ... well,
I believe that is all. BONJOUR--I am very glad to have
made your acquaintance, ladies. GUTEN TAG."

< Back
Forward >












Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors


Mark Twain. Copyright 2008, mtwain.com
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.