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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter X

Innocents Abroad

Chapter X

We passed the Fourth of July on board the Quaker City, in mid-ocean. It
was in all respects a characteristic Mediterranean day--faultlessly
beautiful. A cloudless sky; a refreshing summer wind; a radiant sunshine
that glinted cheerily from dancing wavelets instead of crested mountains
of water; a sea beneath us that was so wonderfully blue, so richly,
brilliantly blue, that it overcame the dullest sensibilities with the
spell of its fascination.

They even have fine sunsets on the Mediterranean--a thing that is
certainly rare in most quarters of the globe. The evening we sailed away
from Gibraltar, that hard-featured rock was swimming in a creamy mist so
rich, so soft, so enchantingly vague and dreamy, that even the Oracle,
that serene, that inspired, that overpowering humbug, scorned the dinner
gong and tarried to worship!

He said: "Well, that's gorgis, ain't it! They don't have none of them
things in our parts, do they? I consider that them effects is on account
of the superior refragability, as you may say, of the sun's diramic
combination with the lymphatic forces of the perihelion of Jubiter. What
should you think?"

"Oh, go to bed!" Dan said that, and went away.

"Oh, yes, it's all very well to say go to bed when a man makes an
argument which another man can't answer. Dan don't never stand any
chance in an argument with me. And he knows it, too. What should you
say, Jack?"

"Now, Doctor, don't you come bothering around me with that dictionary
bosh. I don't do you any harm, do I? Then you let me alone."

"He's gone, too. Well, them fellows have all tackled the old Oracle, as
they say, but the old man's most too many for 'em. Maybe the Poet Lariat
ain't satisfied with them deductions?"

The poet replied with a barbarous rhyme and went below.

"'Pears that he can't qualify, neither. Well, I didn't expect nothing
out of him. I never see one of them poets yet that knowed anything.
He'll go down now and grind out about four reams of the awfullest slush
about that old rock and give it to a consul, or a pilot, or a nigger, or
anybody he comes across first which he can impose on. Pity but
somebody'd take that poor old lunatic and dig all that poetry rubbage out
of him. Why can't a man put his intellect onto things that's some value?
Gibbons, and Hippocratus, and Sarcophagus, and all them old ancient
philosophers was down on poets--"

"Doctor," I said, "you are going to invent authorities now and I'll leave
you, too. I always enjoy your conversation, notwithstanding the
luxuriance of your syllables, when the philosophy you offer rests on your
own responsibility; but when you begin to soar--when you begin to support
it with the evidence of authorities who are the creations of your own
fancy--I lose confidence."

That was the way to flatter the doctor. He considered it a sort of
acknowledgment on my part of a fear to argue with him. He was always
persecuting the passengers with abstruse propositions framed in language
that no man could understand, and they endured the exquisite torture a
minute or two and then abandoned the field. A triumph like this, over
half a dozen antagonists was sufficient for one day; from that time
forward he would patrol the decks beaming blandly upon all comers, and so
tranquilly, blissfully happy!

But I digress. The thunder of our two brave cannon announced the Fourth
of July, at daylight, to all who were awake. But many of us got our
information at a later hour, from the almanac. All the flags were sent
aloft except half a dozen that were needed to decorate portions of the
ship below, and in a short time the vessel assumed a holiday appearance.
During the morning, meetings were held and all manner of committees set
to work on the celebration ceremonies. In the afternoon the ship's
company assembled aft, on deck, under the awnings; the flute, the
asthmatic melodeon, and the consumptive clarinet crippled "The Star-
Spangled Banner," the choir chased it to cover, and George came in with a
peculiarly lacerating screech on the final note and slaughtered it.
Nobody mourned.

We carried out the corpse on three cheers (that joke was not intentional
and I do not endorse it), and then the President, throned behind a cable
locker with a national flag spread over it, announced the "Reader," who
rose up and read that same old Declaration of Independence which we have
all listened to so often without paying any attention to what it said;
and after that the President piped the Orator of the Day to quarters and
he made that same old speech about our national greatness which we so
religiously believe and so fervently applaud. Now came the choir into
court again, with the complaining instruments, and assaulted "Hail
Columbia"; and when victory hung wavering in the scale, George returned
with his dreadful wild-goose stop turned on and the choir won, of course.
A minister pronounced the benediction, and the patriotic little gathering
disbanded. The Fourth of July was safe, as far as the Mediterranean was

At dinner in the evening, a well-written original poem was recited with
spirit by one of the ship's captains, and thirteen regular toasts were
washed down with several baskets of champagne. The speeches were bad--
execrable almost without exception. In fact, without any exception but
one. Captain Duncan made a good speech; he made the only good speech of
the evening. He said:

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:--May we all live to a green old age and be
prosperous and happy. Steward, bring up another basket of champagne."

It was regarded as a very able effort.

The festivities, so to speak, closed with another of those miraculous
balls on the promenade deck. We were not used to dancing on an even
keel, though, and it was only a questionable success. But take it all
together, it was a bright, cheerful, pleasant Fourth.

Toward nightfall the next evening, we steamed into the great artificial
harbor of this noble city of Marseilles, and saw the dying sunlight gild
its clustering spires and ramparts, and flood its leagues of environing
verdure with a mellow radiance that touched with an added charm the white
villas that flecked the landscape far and near. [Copyright secured
according to law.]

There were no stages out, and we could not get on the pier from the ship.
It was annoying. We were full of enthusiasm--we wanted to see France!
Just at nightfall our party of three contracted with a waterman for the
privilege of using his boat as a bridge--its stern was at our companion
ladder and its bow touched the pier. We got in and the fellow backed out
into the harbor. I told him in French that all we wanted was to walk
over his thwarts and step ashore, and asked him what he went away out
there for. He said he could not understand me. I repeated. Still he
could not understand. He appeared to be very ignorant of French. The
doctor tried him, but he could not understand the doctor. I asked this
boatman to explain his conduct, which he did; and then I couldn't
understand him. Dan said:

"Oh, go to the pier, you old fool--that's where we want to go!"

We reasoned calmly with Dan that it was useless to speak to this
foreigner in English--that he had better let us conduct this business in
the French language and not let the stranger see how uncultivated he was.

"Well, go on, go on," he said, "don't mind me. I don't wish to
interfere. Only, if you go on telling him in your kind of French, he
never will find out where we want to go to. That is what I think about

We rebuked him severely for this remark and said we never knew an
ignorant person yet but was prejudiced. The Frenchman spoke again, and
the doctor said:

"There now, Dan, he says he is going to allez to the douain. Means he is
going to the hotel. Oh, certainly--we don't know the French language."

This was a crusher, as Jack would say. It silenced further criticism
from the disaffected member. We coasted past the sharp bows of a navy of
great steamships and stopped at last at a government building on a stone
pier. It was easy to remember then that the douain was the customhouse
and not the hotel. We did not mention it, however. With winning French
politeness the officers merely opened and closed our satchels, declined
to examine our passports, and sent us on our way. We stopped at the
first cafe we came to and entered. An old woman seated us at a table and
waited for orders. The doctor said:

"Avez-vous du vin?"

The dame looked perplexed. The doctor said again, with elaborate
distinctness of articulation:

"Avez-vous du--vin!"

The dame looked more perplexed than before. I said:

"Doctor, there is a flaw in your pronunciation somewhere. Let me try
her. Madame, avez-vous du vin?--It isn't any use, Doctor--take the

"Madame, avez-vous du vin--du fromage--pain--pickled pigs' feet--beurre--
des oeufs--du boeuf--horseradish, sauerkraut, hog and hominy--anything,
anything in the world that can stay a Christian stomach!"

She said:

"Bless you, why didn't you speak English before? I don't know anything
about your plagued French!"

The humiliating taunts of the disaffected member spoiled the supper, and
we dispatched it in angry silence and got away as soon as we could. Here
we were in beautiful France--in a vast stone house of quaint
architecture--surrounded by all manner of curiously worded French signs--
stared at by strangely habited, bearded French people--everything
gradually and surely forcing upon us the coveted consciousness that at
last, and beyond all question, we were in beautiful France and absorbing
its nature to the forgetfulness of everything else, and coming to feel
the happy romance of the thing in all its enchanting delightfulness--and
to think of this skinny veteran intruding with her vile English, at such
a moment, to blow the fair vision to the winds! It was exasperating.

We set out to find the centre of the city, inquiring the direction every
now and then. We never did succeed in making anybody understand just
exactly what we wanted, and neither did we ever succeed in comprehending
just exactly what they said in reply, but then they always pointed--they
always did that--and we bowed politely and said, "Merci, monsieur," and
so it was a blighting triumph over the disaffected member anyway. He was
restive under these victories and often asked:

"What did that pirate say?"

"Why, he told us which way to go to find the Grand Casino."

"Yes, but what did he say?"

"Oh, it don't matter what he said--we understood him. These are educated
people--not like that absurd boatman."

"Well, I wish they were educated enough to tell a man a direction that
goes some where--for we've been going around in a circle for an hour.
I've passed this same old drugstore seven times."

We said it was a low, disreputable falsehood (but we knew it was not).
It was plain that it would not do to pass that drugstore again, though--
we might go on asking directions, but we must cease from following
finger-pointings if we hoped to check the suspicions of the disaffected

A long walk through smooth, asphaltum-paved streets bordered by blocks of
vast new mercantile houses of cream-colored stone every house and every
block precisely like all the other houses and all the other blocks for a
mile, and all brilliantly lighted--brought us at last to the principal
thoroughfare. On every hand were bright colors, flashing constellations
of gas burners, gaily dressed men and women thronging the sidewalks--
hurry, life, activity, cheerfulness, conversation, and laughter
everywhere! We found the Grand Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix, and wrote
down who we were, where we were born, what our occupations were, the
place we came from last, whether we were married or single, how we liked
it, how old we were, where we were bound for and when we expected to get
there, and a great deal of information of similar importance--all for the
benefit of the landlord and the secret police. We hired a guide and
began the business of sightseeing immediately. That first night on
French soil was a stirring one. I cannot think of half the places we
went to or what we particularly saw; we had no disposition to examine
carefully into anything at all--we only wanted to glance and go--to move,
keep moving! The spirit of the country was upon us. We sat down,
finally, at a late hour, in the great Casino, and called for unstinted
champagne. It is so easy to be bloated aristocrats where it costs
nothing of consequence! There were about five hundred people in that
dazzling place, I suppose, though the walls being papered entirely with
mirrors, so to speak, one could not really tell but that there were a
hundred thousand. Young, daintily dressed exquisites and young,
stylishly dressed women, and also old gentlemen and old ladies, sat in
couples and groups about innumerable marble-topped tables and ate fancy
suppers, drank wine, and kept up a chattering din of conversation that
was dazing to the senses. There was a stage at the far end and a large
orchestra; and every now and then actors and actresses in preposterous
comic dresses came out and sang the most extravagantly funny songs, to
judge by their absurd actions; but that audience merely suspended its
chatter, stared cynically, and never once smiled, never once applauded!
I had always thought that Frenchmen were ready to laugh at any thing.

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