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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter XI

Innocents Abroad

Chapter XI

We are getting foreignized rapidly and with facility. We are getting
reconciled to halls and bedchambers with unhomelike stone floors and no
carpets--floors that ring to the tread of one's heels with a sharpness
that is death to sentimental musing. We are getting used to tidy,
noiseless waiters, who glide hither and thither, and hover about your
back and your elbows like butterflies, quick to comprehend orders, quick
to fill them; thankful for a gratuity without regard to the amount; and
always polite--never otherwise than polite. That is the strangest
curiosity yet--a really polite hotel waiter who isn't an idiot. We are
getting used to driving right into the central court of the hotel, in the
midst of a fragrant circle of vines and flowers, and in the midst also of
parties of gentlemen sitting quietly reading the paper and smoking. We
are getting used to ice frozen by artificial process in ordinary bottles
--the only kind of ice they have here. We are getting used to all these
things, but we are not getting used to carrying our own soap. We are
sufficiently civilized to carry our own combs and toothbrushes, but this
thing of having to ring for soap every time we wash is new to us and not
pleasant at all. We think of it just after we get our heads and faces
thoroughly wet or just when we think we have been in the bathtub long
enough, and then, of course, an annoying delay follows. These
Marseillaises make Marseillaise hymns and Marseilles vests and Marseilles
soap for all the world, but they never sing their hymns or wear their
vests or wash with their soap themselves.

We have learned to go through the lingering routine of the table d'hote
with patience, with serenity, with satisfaction. We take soup, then wait
a few minutes for the fish; a few minutes more and the plates are
changed, and the roast beef comes; another change and we take peas;
change again and take lentils; change and take snail patties (I prefer
grasshoppers); change and take roast chicken and salad; then strawberry
pie and ice cream; then green figs, pears, oranges, green almonds, etc.;
finally coffee. Wine with every course, of course, being in France.
With such a cargo on board, digestion is a slow process, and we must sit
long in the cool chambers and smoke--and read French newspapers, which
have a strange fashion of telling a perfectly straight story till you get
to the "nub" of it, and then a word drops in that no man can translate,
and that story is ruined. An embankment fell on some Frenchmen
yesterday, and the papers are full of it today--but whether those
sufferers were killed, or crippled, or bruised, or only scared is more
than I can possibly make out, and yet I would just give anything to know.

We were troubled a little at dinner today by the conduct of an American,
who talked very loudly and coarsely and laughed boisterously where all
others were so quiet and well behaved. He ordered wine with a royal
flourish and said:

"I never dine without wine, sir" (which was a pitiful falsehood), and
looked around upon the company to bask in the admiration he expected to
find in their faces. All these airs in a land where they would as soon
expect to leave the soup out of the bill of fare as the wine!--in a land
where wine is nearly as common among all ranks as water! This fellow
said: "I am a free-born sovereign, sir, an American, sir, and I want
everybody to know it!" He did not mention that he was a lineal
descendant of Balaam's ass, but everybody knew that without his telling

We have driven in the Prado--that superb avenue bordered with patrician
mansions and noble shade trees--and have visited the chateau Boarely and
its curious museum. They showed us a miniature cemetery there--a copy of
the first graveyard that was ever in Marseilles, no doubt. The delicate
little skeletons were lying in broken vaults and had their household gods
and kitchen utensils with them. The original of this cemetery was dug up
in the principal street of the city a few years ago. It had remained
there, only twelve feet underground, for a matter of twenty-five hundred
years or thereabouts. Romulus was here before he built Rome, and thought
something of founding a city on this spot, but gave up the idea. He may
have been personally acquainted with some of these Phoenicians whose
skeletons we have been examining.

In the great Zoological Gardens we found specimens of all the animals the
world produces, I think, including a dromedary, a monkey ornamented with
tufts of brilliant blue and carmine hair--a very gorgeous monkey he was--
a hippopotamus from the Nile, and a sort of tall, long-legged bird with a
beak like a powder horn and close-fitting wings like the tails of a dress
coat. This fellow stood up with his eyes shut and his shoulders stooped
forward a little, and looked as if he had his hands under his coat tails.
Such tranquil stupidity, such supernatural gravity, such self-
righteousness, and such ineffable self-complacency as were in the
countenance and attitude of that gray-bodied, dark-winged, bald-headed,
and preposterously uncomely bird! He was so ungainly, so pimply about
the head, so scaly about the legs, yet so serene, so unspeakably
satisfied! He was the most comical-looking creature that can be
imagined. It was good to hear Dan and the doctor laugh--such natural and
such enjoyable laughter had not been heard among our excursionists since
our ship sailed away from America. This bird was a godsend to us, and I
should be an ingrate if I forgot to make honorable mention of him in
these pages. Ours was a pleasure excursion; therefore we stayed with
that bird an hour and made the most of him. We stirred him up
occasionally, but he only unclosed an eye and slowly closed it again,
abating no jot of his stately piety of demeanor or his tremendous
seriousness. He only seemed to say, "Defile not Heaven's anointed with
unsanctified hands." We did not know his name, and so we called him "The
Pilgrim." Dan said:

"All he wants now is a Plymouth Collection."

The boon companion of the colossal elephant was a common cat! This cat
had a fashion of climbing up the elephant's hind legs and roosting on his
back. She would sit up there, with her paws curved under her breast, and
sleep in the sun half the afternoon. It used to annoy the elephant at
first, and he would reach up and take her down, but she would go aft and
climb up again. She persisted until she finally conquered the elephant's
prejudices, and now they are inseparable friends. The cat plays about
her comrade's forefeet or his trunk often, until dogs approach, and then
she goes aloft out of danger. The elephant has annihilated several dogs
lately that pressed his companion too closely.

We hired a sailboat and a guide and made an excursion to one of the small
islands in the harbor to visit the Castle d'If. This ancient fortress
has a melancholy history. It has been used as a prison for political
offenders for two or three hundred years, and its dungeon walls are
scarred with the rudely carved names of many and many a captive who
fretted his life away here and left no record of himself but these sad
epitaphs wrought with his own hands. How thick the names were! And
their long-departed owners seemed to throng the gloomy cells and
corridors with their phantom shapes. We loitered through dungeon after
dungeon, away down into the living rock below the level of the sea, it
seemed. Names everywhere!--some plebeian, some noble, some even
princely. Plebeian, prince, and noble had one solicitude in common--they
would not be forgotten! They could suffer solitude, inactivity, and the
horrors of a silence that no sound ever disturbed, but they could not
bear the thought of being utterly forgotten by the world. Hence the
carved names. In one cell, where a little light penetrated, a man had
lived twenty-seven years without seeing the face of a human being--lived
in filth and wretchedness, with no companionship but his own thoughts,
and they were sorrowful enough and hopeless enough, no doubt. Whatever
his jailers considered that he needed was conveyed to his cell by night
through a wicket.

This man carved the walls of his prison house from floor to roof with all
manner of figures of men and animals grouped in intricate designs. He
had toiled there year after year, at his self-appointed task, while
infants grew to boyhood--to vigorous youth--idled through school and
college--acquired a profession--claimed man's mature estate--married and
looked back to infancy as to a thing of some vague, ancient time, almost.
But who shall tell how many ages it seemed to this prisoner? With the
one, time flew sometimes; with the other, never--it crawled always. To
the one, nights spent in dancing had seemed made of minutes instead of
hours; to the other, those selfsame nights had been like all other nights
of dungeon life and seemed made of slow, dragging weeks instead of hours
and minutes.

One prisoner of fifteen years had scratched verses upon his walls, and
brief prose sentences--brief, but full of pathos. These spoke not of
himself and his hard estate, but only of the shrine where his spirit fled
the prison to worship--of home and the idols that were templed there.
He never lived to see them.

The walls of these dungeons are as thick as some bed-chambers at home are
wide--fifteen feet. We saw the damp, dismal cells in which two of Dumas'
heroes passed their confinement--heroes of "Monte Cristo." It was here
that the brave Abbe wrote a book with his own blood, with a pen made of a
piece of iron hoop, and by the light of a lamp made out of shreds of
cloth soaked in grease obtained from his food; and then dug through the
thick wall with some trifling instrument which he wrought himself out of
a stray piece of iron or table cutlery and freed Dantes from his chains.
It was a pity that so many weeks of dreary labor should have come to
naught at last.

They showed us the noisome cell where the celebrated "Iron Mask"--that
ill-starred brother of a hardhearted king of France--was confined for a
season before he was sent to hide the strange mystery of his life from
the curious in the dungeons of Ste. Marguerite. The place had a far
greater interest for us than it could have had if we had known beyond all
question who the Iron Mask was, and what his history had been, and why
this most unusual punishment had been meted out to him. Mystery! That
was the charm. That speechless tongue, those prisoned features, that
heart so freighted with unspoken troubles, and that breast so oppressed
with its piteous secret had been here. These dank walls had known the
man whose dolorous story is a sealed book forever! There was fascination
in the spot.

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