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Mark Twain > A Tramp Abroad > Chapter XXVI

A Tramp Abroad

Chapter XXVI

[The Nest of the Cuckoo-clock]

The Hofkirche is celebrated for its organ concerts.
All summer long the tourists flock to that church about six
o'clock in the evening, and pay their franc, and listen
to the noise. They don't stay to hear all of it, but get up
and tramp out over the sounding stone floor, meeting late
comers who tramp in in a sounding and vigorous way.
This tramping back and forth is kept up nearly all the time,
and is accented by the continuous slamming of the door,
and the coughing and barking and sneezing of the crowd.
Meantime, the big organ is booming and crashing and
thundering away, doing its best to prove that it is
the biggest and best organ in Europe, and that a tight
little box of a church is the most favorable place
to average and appreciate its powers in. It is true,
there were some soft and merciful passages occasionally,
but the tramp-tramp of the tourists only allowed one to get
fitful glimpses of them, so to speak. Then right away
the organist would let go another avalanche.

The commerce of Lucerne consists mainly in gimcrackery of the
souvenir sort; the shops are packed with Alpine crystals,
photographs of scenery, and wooden and ivory carvings.
I will not conceal the fact that miniature figures of the
Lion of Lucerne are to be had in them. Millions of them.
But they are libels upon him, every one of them.
There is a subtle something about the majestic pathos
of the original which the copyist cannot get. Even the sun
fails to get it; both the photographer and the carver give
you a dying lion, and that is all. The shape is right,
the attitude is right, the proportions are right, but that
indescribable something which makes the Lion of Lucerne
the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world,
is wanting.

The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low
cliff--for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff.
His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. How head
is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder,
his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France.
Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear
stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base,
and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored,
among the water-lilies.

Around about are green trees and grass. The place is
a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise
and stir and confusion--and all this is fitting, for lions
do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals
in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings.
The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere,
but nowhere so impressive as where he is.

Martyrdom is the luckiest fate that can befall some people.
Louis XVI did not die in his bed, consequently history is
very gentle with him; she is charitable toward his failings,
and she finds in him high virtues which are not usually
considered to be virtues when they are lodged in kings.
She makes him out to be a person with a meek and modest
spirit, the heart of a female saint, and a wrong head.
None of these qualities are kingly but the last.
Taken together they make a character which would have fared
harshly at the hands of history if its owner had had the ill
luck to miss martyrdom. With the best intentions to do
the right thing, he always managed to do the wrong one.
Moreover, nothing could get the female saint out of him.
He knew, well enough, that in national emergencies he must
not consider how he ought to act, as a man, but how he
ought to act as a king; so he honestly tried to sink
the man and be the king--but it was a failure, he only
succeeded in being the female saint. He was not instant
in season, but out of season. He could not be persuaded
to do a thing while it could do any good--he was iron,
he was adamant in his stubbornness then--but as soon as
the thing had reached a point where it would be positively
harmful to do it, do it he would, and nothing could
stop him. He did not do it because it would be harmful,
but because he hoped it was not yet too late to achieve
by it the good which it would have done if applied earlier.
His comprehension was always a train or two behindhand.
If a national toe required amputating, he could not see
that it needed anything more than poulticing; when others
saw that the mortification had reached the knee, he first
perceived that the toe needed cutting off--so he cut it off;
and he severed the leg at the knee when others saw that the
disease had reached the thigh. He was good, and honest,
and well meaning, in the matter of chasing national diseases,
but he never could overtake one. As a private man,
he would have been lovable; but viewed as a king, he was
strictly contemptible.

His was a most unroyal career, but the most pitiable
spectacle in it was his sentimental treachery to his
Swiss guard on that memorable 10th of August, when he
allowed those heroes to be massacred in his cause,
and forbade them to shed the "sacred French blood"
purporting to be flowing in the veins of the red-capped
mob of miscreants that was raging around the palace.
He meant to be kingly, but he was only the female saint
once more. Some of his biographers think that upon this
occasion the spirit of Saint Louis had descended upon him.
It must have found pretty cramped quarters. If Napoleon
the First had stood in the shoes of Louis XVI that day,
instead of being merely a casual and unknown looker-on,
there would be no Lion of Lucerne, now, but there would
be a well-stocked Communist graveyard in Paris which would
answer just as well to remember the 10th of August by.

Martyrdom made a saint of Mary Queen of Scots three
hundred years ago, and she has hardly lost all of her
saintship yet. Martyrdom made a saint of the trivial
and foolish Marie Antoinette, and her biographers still
keep her fragrant with the odor of sanctity to this day,
while unconsciously proving upon almost every page they write
that the only calamitous instinct which her husband lacked,
she supplied--the instinct to root out and get rid of
an honest, able, and loyal official, wherever she found him.
The hideous but beneficent French Revolution would have
been deferred, or would have fallen short of completeness,
or even might not have happened at all, if Marie
Antoinette had made the unwise mistake of not being born.
The world owes a great deal to the French Revolution,
and consequently to its two chief promoters, Louis the
Poor in Spirit and his queen.

We did not buy any wooden images of the Lion, nor any ivory
or ebony or marble or chalk or sugar or chocolate ones,
or even any photographic slanders of him. The truth is,
these copies were so common, so universal, in the shops
and everywhere, that they presently became as intolerable
to the wearied eye as the latest popular melody usually
becomes to the harassed ear. In Lucerne, too, the wood
carvings of other sorts, which had been so pleasant to look
upon when one saw them occasionally at home, soon began
to fatigue us. We grew very tired of seeing wooden quails
and chickens picking and struting around clock-faces,
and still more tired of seeing wooden images of the alleged
chamois skipping about wooden rocks, or lying upon them
in family groups, or peering alertly up from behind them.
The first day, I would have bought a hundred and fifty
of these clocks if I had the money--and I did buy three--
but on the third day the disease had run its course,
I had convalesced, and was in the market once more--trying
to sell. However, I had no luck; which was just as well,
for the things will be pretty enough, no doubt, when I get
them home.

For years my pet aversion had been the cuckoo clock;
now here I was, at last, right in the creature's home;
so wherever I went that distressing "HOO'hoo! HOO'hoo!
HOO'hoo!" was always in my ears. For a nervous man,
this was a fine state of things. Some sounds are hatefuler
than others, but no sound is quite so inane, and silly,
and aggravating as the "HOO'hoo" of a cuckoo clock, I think.
I bought one, and am carrying it home to a certain person;
for I have always said that if the opportunity ever happened,
I would do that man an ill turn. What I meant, was, that I
would break one of his legs, or something of that sort;
but in Lucerne I instantly saw that I could impair his mind.
That would be more lasting, and more satisfactory every way.
So I bought the cuckoo clock; and if I ever get home
with it, he is "my meat," as they say in the mines.
I thought of another candidate--a book-reviewer whom
I could name if I wanted to--but after thinking
it over, I didn't buy him a clock. I couldn't injure
his mind.

We visited the two long, covered wooden bridges which span
the green and brilliant Reuss just below where it goes
plunging and hurrahing out of the lake. These rambling,
sway-backed tunnels are very attractive things, with their
alcoved outlooks upon the lovely and inspiriting water.
They contain two or three hundred queer old pictures,
by old Swiss masters--old boss sign-painters, who flourished
before the decadence of art.

The lake is alive with fishes, plainly visible to the eye,
for the water is very clear. The parapets in front of the
hotels were usually fringed with fishers of all ages.
One day I thought I would stop and see a fish caught.
The result brought back to my mind, very forcibly,
a circumstance which I had not thought of before for
twelve years. This one:


When my odd friend Riley and I were newspaper correspondents
in Washington, in the winter of '67, we were coming down
Pennsylvania Avenue one night, near midnight, in a driving
storm of snow, when the flash of a street-lamp fell upon a man
who was eagerly tearing along in the opposite direction.
"This is lucky! You are Mr. Riley, ain't you?"

Riley was the most self-possessed and solemnly deliberate
person in the republic. He stopped, looked his man
over from head to foot, and finally said:

"I am Mr. Riley. Did you happen to be looking for me?"

"That's just what I was doing," said the man, joyously,
"and it's the biggest luck in the world that I've found you.
My name is Lykins. I'm one of the teachers of the high
school--San Francisco. As soon as I heard the San Francisco
postmastership was vacant, I made up my mind to get it--and here
I am."

"Yes," said Riley, slowly, "as you have remarked ...
Mr. Lykins ... here you are. And have you got it?"

"Well, not exactly GOT it, but the next thing to it.
I've brought a petition, signed by the Superintendent
of Public Instruction, and all the teachers, and by more
than two hundred other people. Now I want you, if you'll
be so good, to go around with me to the Pacific delegation,
for I want to rush this thing through and get along home."

"If the matter is so pressing, you will prefer that we
visit the delegation tonight," said Riley, in a voice
which had nothing mocking in it--to an unaccustomed ear.

"Oh, tonight, by all means! I haven't got any time to
fool around. I want their promise before I go to bed--
I ain't the talking kind, I'm the DOING kind!"

"Yes ... you've come to the right place for that.
When did you arrive?"

"Just an hour ago."

"When are you intending to leave?"

"For New York tomorrow evening--for San Francisco
next morning."

"Just so.... What are you going to do tomorrow?"

"DO! Why, I've got to go to the President with the petition
and the delegation, and get the appointment, haven't I?"

"Yes ... very true ... that is correct. And then what?"

"Executive session of the Senate at 2 P.M.--got to get
the appointment confirmed--I reckon you'll grant that?"

"Yes ... yes," said Riley, meditatively, "you are
right again. Then you take the train for New York in
the evening, and the steamer for San Francisco next morning?"

"That's it--that's the way I map it out!"

Riley considered a while, and then said:

"You couldn't stay ... a day ... well, say two
days longer?"

"Bless your soul, no! It's not my style. I ain't a man
to go fooling around--I'm a man that DOES things,
I tell you."

The storm was raging, the thick snow blowing in gusts.
Riley stood silent, apparently deep in a reverie,
during a minute or more, then he looked up and said:

"Have you ever heard about that man who put up at Gadsby's,
once? ... But I see you haven't."

He backed Mr. Lykins against an iron fence, buttonholed him,
fastened him with his eye, like the Ancient Mariner,
and proceeded to unfold his narrative as placidly
and peacefully as if we were all stretched comfortably
in a blossomy summer meadow instead of being persecuted
by a wintry midnight tempest:

"I will tell you about that man. It was in Jackson's time.
Gadsby's was the principal hotel, then. Well, this man
arrived from Tennessee about nine o'clock, one morning,
with a black coachman and a splendid four-horse carriage and
an elegant dog, which he was evidently fond of and proud of;
he drove up before Gadsby's, and the clerk and the landlord
and everybody rushed out to take charge of him, but he said,
'Never mind,' and jumped out and told the coachman
to wait--said he hadn't time to take anything to eat,
he only had a little claim against the government to collect,
would run across the way, to the Treasury, and fetch
the money, and then get right along back to Tennessee,
for he was in considerable of a hurry.

"Well, about eleven o'clock that night he came back
and ordered a bed and told them to put the horses
up--said he would collect the claim in the morning.
This was in January, you understand--January, 1834--
the 3d of January--Wednesday.

"Well, on the 5th of February, he sold the fine carriage,
and bought a cheap second-hand one--said it would answer
just as well to take the money home in, and he didn't care
for style.

"On the 11th of August he sold a pair of the fine horses--
said he'd often thought a pair was better than four,
to go over the rough mountain roads with where a body
had to be careful about his driving--and there wasn't
so much of his claim but he could lug the money home
with a pair easy enough.

"On the 13th of December he sold another horse--said
two warn't necessary to drag that old light vehicle
with--in fact, one could snatch it along faster than
was absolutely necessary, now that it was good solid
winter weather and the roads in splendid condition.

"On the 17th of February, 1835, he sold the old carriage
and bought a cheap second-hand buggy--said a buggy
was just the trick to skim along mushy, slushy early
spring roads with, and he had always wanted to try
a buggy on those mountain roads, anyway.

"On the 1st August he sold the buggy and bought the
remains of an old sulky--said he just wanted to see
those green Tennesseans stare and gawk when they saw
him come a-ripping along in a sulky--didn't believe
they'd ever heard of a sulky in their lives.

"Well, on the 29th of August he sold his colored
coachman--said he didn't need a coachman for a sulky--
wouldn't be room enough for two in it anyway--and,
besides, it wasn't every day that Providence sent a man
a fool who was willing to pay nine hundred dollars for
such a third-rate negro as that--been wanting to get
rid of the creature for years, but didn't like to THROW him away.

"Eighteen months later--that is to say, on the 15th
of February, 1837--he sold the sulky and bought
a saddle--said horseback-riding was what the doctor
had always recommended HIM to take, and dog'd if he
wanted to risk HIS neck going over those mountain roads
on wheels in the dead of winter, not if he knew himself.

"On the 9th of April he sold the saddle--said he wasn't
going to risk HIS life with any perishable saddle-girth
that ever was made, over a rainy, miry April road,
while he could ride bareback and know and feel he was
safe--always HAD despised to ride on a saddle, anyway.

"On the 24th of April he sold his horse--said 'I'm just
fifty-seven today, hale and hearty--it would be a PRETTY
howdy-do for me to be wasting such a trip as that and such
weather as this, on a horse, when there ain't anything
in the world so splendid as a tramp on foot through
the fresh spring woods and over the cheery mountains,
to a man that IS a man--and I can make my dog carry my
claim in a little bundle, anyway, when it's collected.
So tomorrow I'll be up bright and early, make my little
old collection, and mosey off to Tennessee, on my own
hind legs, with a rousing good-by to Gadsby's.'

"On the 22d of June he sold his dog--said 'Dern a dog,
anyway, where you're just starting off on a rattling bully
pleasure tramp through the summer woods and hills--perfect
nuisance--chases the squirrels, barks at everything,
goes a-capering and splattering around in the fords--
man can't get any chance to reflect and enjoy nature--
and I'd a blamed sight ruther carry the claim myself,
it's a mighty sight safer; a dog's mighty uncertain
in a financial way- -always noticed it--well, GOOD-by,
boys--last call--I'm off for Tennessee with a good
leg and a gay heart, early in the morning.'"

There was a pause and a silence--except the noise
of the wind and the pelting snow. Mr. Lykins said,


Riley said:

"Well,--that was thirty years ago."

"Very well, very well--what of it?"

"I'm great friends with that old patriarch. He comes
every evening to tell me good-by. I saw him an hour ago--
he's off for Tennessee early tomorrow morning--as usual;
said he calculated to get his claim through and be off
before night-owls like me have turned out of bed.
The tears were in his eyes, he was so glad he was going
to see his old Tennessee and his friends once more."

Another silent pause. The stranger broke it:

"Is that all?"

"That is all."

"Well, for the TIME of night, and the KIND of night,
it seems to me the story was full long enough. But what's
it all FOR?"

"Oh, nothing in particular."

"Well, where's the point of it?"

"Oh, there isn't any particular point to it. Only, if you
are not in TOO much of a hurry to rush off to San Francisco
with that post-office appointment, Mr. Lykins, I'd advise
you to 'PUT UP AT GADSBY'S' for a spell, and take it easy.
Good-by. GOD bless you!"

So saying, Riley blandly turned on his heel and left
the astonished school-teacher standing there, a musing
and motionless snow image shining in the broad glow
of the street-lamp.

He never got that post-office.

To go back to Lucerne and its fishers, I concluded,
after about nine hours' waiting, that the man who proposes
to tarry till he sees something hook one of those well-fed
and experienced fishes will find it wisdom to "put up
at Gadsby's" and take it easy. It is likely that a fish
has not been caught on that lake pier for forty years;
but no matter, the patient fisher watches his cork there
all the day long, just the same, and seems to enjoy it.
One may see the fisher-loafers just as thick and contented
and happy and patient all along the Seine at Paris,
but tradition says that the only thing ever caught there
in modern times is a thing they don't fish for at all--the
recent dog and the translated cat.

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