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   Chapter 4 Jacques, the Forsaken

Europe Revised By Irvin S. Cobb Characters: 20275

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


In Germany the last fresh air was used during the Thirty Years' War, and there has since been no demand for any. Austria has no fresh air at all-never did have any, and therefore has never felt the need of having any. Italy-the northern part of it anyhow-is also reasonably shy of this commodity.

In the German-speaking countries all street cars and all railway trains sail with battened hatches. In their palmiest days the Jimmy Hope gang could not have opened a window in a German sleeping car-not without blasting; and trying to open a window in the ordinary first or second class carriage provides healthful exercise for an American tourist, while affording a cheap and simple form of amusement for his fellow passengers. If, by superhuman efforts and at the cost of a fingernail or two, he should get one open, somebody else in the compartment as a matter of principle, immediately objects; and the retired brigadier-general, who is always in charge of a German train, comes and seals it up again, for that is the rule and the law; and then the natives are satisfied and sit in sweet content together, breathing a line of second-handed air that would choke a salamander.

Once, a good many years ago-in the century before the last I think it was-a member of the Teutonic racial stock was accidentally caught out in the fresh air and some of it got into his lungs. And, being a strange and a foreign influence to which the lungs were unused, it sickened him; in fact I am not sure but that it killed him on the spot. So the emperors of Germany and Austria got together and issued a joint ukase on the subject and, so far as the traveling public was concerned, forever abolished those dangerous experiments. Over there they think a draft is deadly, and I presume it is if you have never tampered with one. They have a saying: A little window is a dangerous thing.

As with fresh air on the Continent, so also with baths-except perhaps more so. In deference to the strange and unaccountable desires of their English-speaking guests the larger hotels in Paris are abundantly equipped with bathrooms now, but the Parisian boulevardiers continue to look with darkling suspicion on a party who will deliberately immerse his person in cold water; their beings seem to recoil in horror from the bare prospect of such a thing. It is plainly to be seen they think his intelligence has been attainted by cold water externally applied; they fear that through a complete undermining of his reason he may next be committing these acts of violence on innocent bystanders rather than on himself, as in the present distressing stages of his mania. Especially, I would say, is this the attitude of the habitue of Montmartre.

I can offer no visual proof to back my word; but by other testimony I venture the assertion that when a boulevardier feels the need of a bath he hangs a musk bag round his neck-and then, as the saying is, the warmer the sweeter. His companion of the gentler sex apparently has the same idea of performing daily ablutions that a tabby cat has. You recall the tabby-cat system, do you not?-two swipes over the brow with the moistened paw, one forward swipe over each ear, a kind of circular rubbing effect across the face-and call it a day! Drowning must be the most frightful death that a Parisian sidewalk favorite can die. It is not so much the death itself-it is the attendant circumstances.

Across the river, in the older quarters of Paris, there is excitement when anybody on the block takes a bath-not so much excitement as for a fire, perhaps, but more than for a funeral. On the eve of the fatal day the news spreads through the district that to-morrow poor Jacques is going to take a bath! A further reprieve has been denied him. He cannot put it off for another month, or even for another two weeks. His doom is nigh at hand; there is no hope-none!

Kindly old Angeline, the midwife, shakes her head sadly as she goes about her simple duties.

On the morrow the condemned man rises early and sees his spiritual adviser. He eats a hearty breakfast, takes an affectionate leave of his family and says he is prepared for the worst. At the appointed hour the tumbrel enters the street, driven by the paid executioner-a descendant of the original Sanson-and bearing the dread instrument of punishment, a large oblong tin tub.

The rumble of the heavy wheels over the cobbles seems to wake an agonized chord in every bosom. To-day this dread visitation descends on Jacques; but who can tell-so the neighbors say to themselves-when the same fate may strike some other household now happily unconscious! All along the narrow way sorrow-drooped heads protrude in rows; from every casement dangle whiskers, lank and stringy with sympathy-for in this section every true Frenchman has whiskers, and if by chance he has not his wife has; so that there are whiskers for all.

From the window of the doomed wretch's apartments a derrick protrudes-a crossarm with a pulley and a rope attached. It bears a grimly significant resemblance to a gallows tree. Under the direction of the presiding functionary the tub is made fast to the tackle and hoisted upward as pianos and safes are hoisted in American cities. It halts at the open casement. It vanishes within. The whole place resounds with low murmurs of horror and commiseration.

Ah, the poor Jacques-how he must suffer! Hark to that low, sickening thud! 'Tis the accursed soap dropping from his nerveless grasp. Hist to that sound-like unto a death rattle! It is the water gurgling in the tub. And what means that low, poignant, smothered gasp? It is the last convulsive cry of Jacques descending into the depths. All is over! Let us pray!

The tub, emptied but stained, is lowered to the waiting cart. The executioner kisses the citizen who has held his horse for him during his absence and departs; the whole district still hums with ill-suppressed excitement. Questions fly from tongue to tongue. Was the victim brave at the last? Was he resigned when the dread moment came? And how is the family bearing up? It is hours before the place settles down again to that calm which will endure for another month, until somebody else takes a bath on a physician's prescription.

Even in the sanctity of a Paris hotel a bath is more or less a public function unless you lock your door. All sorts of domestic servitors drift in, filled with a morbid curiosity to see how a foreigner deports himself when engaged in this strange, barbaric rite. On the occasion of my first bath on French soil, after several of the hired help had thus called on me informally, causing me to cower low in my porcelain retreat, I took advantage of a moment of comparative quiet to rise drippingly and draw the latch. I judged the proprietor would be along next, and I was not dressed for him. The Lady Susanna of whom mention has previously been made must have stopped at a French hotel at some time of her life. This helps us to understand why she remained so calm when the elders happened in.

Even as now practiced, bathing still remains a comparative novelty in the best French circles, I imagine. I base this presumption on observations made during a visit to Versailles. I went to Versailles; I trod with reverent step those historic precincts adorned with art treasures uncountable, with curios magnificent, with relics invaluable. I visited the little palace and the big; I ventured deep into that splendid forest where, in the company of ladies regarding whom there has been a good deal of talk subsequently, France's Grandest and Merriest Monarch disported himself. And I found out what made the Merriest Monarch merry-so far as I could see, there was not a bathroom on the place. He was a true Frenchman-was Louis the Fourteenth.

In Berlin, at the Imperial Palace, our experience was somewhat similar. Led by a guide we walked through acres of state drawing rooms and state dining rooms and state reception rooms and state picture rooms; and we were told that most of them-or, at least, many of them-were the handiwork of the late Andreas Schluter. The deceased Schluter was an architect, a painter, a sculptor, a woodcarver, a decorator, all rolled into one. He was the George M. Cohan of his time; and I think he also played the clarinet, being a German.

We traversed miles of these Schluter masterpieces. Eventually we heard sounds of martial music without, and we went to a window overlooking a paved courtyard; and from that point we presently beheld a fine sight. For the moment the courtyard was empty, except that in the center stood a great mass of bronze-by Schluter, I think-a heroic equestrian statue of Saint George in the act of destroying the first adulterated German sausage. But in a minute the garrison turned out; and then in through an arched gateway filed the relief guard headed by a splendid band, with bell-hung standards jingling at the head of the column and young officers stalking along as stiff as ramrods, and soldiers marching with the goosestep.

In the German army the private who raises his knee the highest and sticks his shank out ahead of him the straightest, and slams his foot down the hardest and jars his brain the painfulest, is promoted to be a corporal and given a much heavier pair of shoes, so that he may make more noise and in time utterly destroy his reason. The goosestep would be a great thing for destroying grasshoppers or cutworms in a plague year in a Kansas wheatfield.

At the Kaiser's palace we witnessed all these sights, but we did not run across any bathrooms or any bathtubs. However, we were in the public end of the establishment and I regard it as probable that in the other wing, where the Kaiser lives when at home, there are plenty of bathrooms. I did not investigate personally. The Kaiser was out at Potsdam and I did not care to call in his absence.

Bathrooms are plentiful at the hotel where we stopped at Berlin. I had rather hoped to find the bedroom equipped with an old-fashioned German feather bed. I had heard that one scaled the side of a German bed on a stepladder and then

fell headlong into its smothering folds like a gallant fireman invading a burning rag warehouse; but this hotel happened to be the best hotel that I ever saw outside the United States. It had been built and it was managed on American lines, plus German domestic service-which made an incomparable combination-and it was furnished with modern beds and provided with modern bathrooms.

Probably as a delicate compliment to the Kaiser, the bathtowels were starched until the fringes at the ends bristled up stiffly a-curl, like the ends of His Imperial Majesty's equally imperial mustache. Just once-and once only-I made the mistake of rubbing myself with one of those towels just as it was. I should have softened it first by a hackling process, as we used to hackle the hemp in Kentucky; but I did not. For two days I felt like an etching. I looked something like one too.

In Vienna we could not get a bedroom with a bathroom attached-they did not seem to have any-but we were told there was a bathroom just across the hall which we might use with the utmost freedom. This bathroom was a large, long, loftly, marble-walled vault. It was as cold as a tomb and as gloomy as one, and very smelly. Indeed it greatly resembled the pictures I have seen of the sepulcher of an Egyptian king-only I would have said that this particular king had been skimpily embalmed by the royal undertakers in the first place, and then imperfectly packed. The bathtub was long and marked with scars, and it looked exactly like a rifled mummy case with the lid missing, which added greatly to the prevalent illusion.

We used this bathroom ad lib.: but when I went to pay the bill I found an official had been keeping tabs on us, and that all baths taken had been charged up at the rate of sixty cents apiece. I had provided my own soap too! For that matter the traveler provides his own soap everywhere in Europe, outside of England. In some parts soap is regarded as an edible and in some as a vice common to foreigners; but everywhere except in the northern countries it is a curio.

So in Vienna they made us furnish our own soap and then charged us more for a bath than they did for a meal. Still, by their standards, I dare say they were right. A meal is a necessity, but a bath is an exotic luxury; and, since they have no extensive tariff laws in Austria, it is but fair that the foreigner should pay the tax. I know I paid mine, one way or another.

Speaking of bathing reminds me of washing; and speaking of washing reminds me of an adventure I had in Vienna in connection with a white waistcoat-or, as we would call it down where I was raised, a dress vest. This vest had become soiled through travel and wear across Europe. At Vienna I intrusted it to the laundry along with certain other garments. When the bundle came back my vest was among the missing.

The maid did not seem to be able to comprehend the brand of German I use in casual conversation; so, through an interpreter, I explained to her that I was shy one white vest. For two days she brought all sorts of vests and submitted them to me on approval-thin ones and thick ones; old ones and new ones; slick ones and woolly ones; fringed ones and frayed ones. I think the woman had a private vest mine somewhere, and went and tapped a fresh vein on my account every few minutes; but it never was the right vest she brought me.

Finally I told her in my best German, meantime accompanying myself with appropriate yet graceful gestures, that she need not concern herself further with the affair; she could just let the matter drop and I would interview the manager and put in a claim for the value of the lost garment. She looked at me dazedly a moment while I repeated the injunction more painstakingly than before; and, at that, understanding seemed to break down the barriers of her reason and she said, "Ja! Ja!" Then she nodded emphatically several times, smiled and hurried away and in twenty minutes was back, bringing with her a begging friar of some monastic order or other.

I would take it as a personal favor if some student of the various Teutonic tongues and jargons would inform me whether there is any word in Viennese for white vest that sounds like Catholic priest! However, we prayed together-that brown brother and I. I do not know what he prayed for, but I prayed for my vest.

I never got it though. I doubt whether my prayer ever reached heaven-it had such a long way to go. It is farther from Vienna to heaven than from any other place in the world, I guess-unless it is Paris. That vest is still wandering about the damp-filled corridors of that hotel, mooing in a plaintive manner for its mate-which is myself. It will never find a suitable adopted parent. It was especially coopered to my form by an expert clothing contractor, and it will not fit anyone else. No; it will wander on and on, the starchy bulge of its bosom dimly phosphorescent in the gloaming, its white pearl buttons glimmering spectrally; and after a while the hotel will get the reputation of being haunted by the ghost of a flour barrel, and will have a bad name and lose custom. I hope so anyway. It looks to be my one chance of getting even with the owner for penalizing me in the matter of baths.

From Vienna we went southward into the Tyrolese Alps. It was a wonderful ride-that ride through the Semmering and on down to Northern Italy. Our absurdly short little locomotive, drawing our absurdly long train, went boring in and out of a wrinkly shoulder-seam of the Tyrols like a stubby needle going through a tuck. I think in thirty miles we threaded thirty tunnels; after that I was practically asphyxiated and lost count.

If I ever take that journey again I shall wear a smoke helmet and be comfortable. But always between tunnels there were views to be seen that would have revived one of the Seven Sleepers. Now, on the great-granddaddy-longlegs of all the spidery trestles that ever were built, we would go roaring across a mighty gorge, its sides clothed with perpendicular gardens and vineyards, and with little gray towns clustering under the ledges on its sheer walls like mud-daubers' nests beneath an eave. Now, perched on a ridgy outcrop of rock like a single tooth in a snaggled reptilian jaw, would be a deserted tower, making a fellow think of the good old feudal days when the robber barons robbed the traveler instead of as at present, when the job is so completely attended to by the pirates who weigh and register baggage in these parts.

Then-whish, roar, eclipse, darkness and sulphureted hydrogen!-we would dive into another tunnel and out again-gasping-on a breathtaking panorama of mountains. Some of them would be standing up against the sky like the jagged top of a half-finished cutout puzzle, and some would be buried so deeply in clouds that only their peaked blue noses showed sharp above the featherbed mattresses of mist in which they were snuggled, as befitted mountains of Teutonic extraction. And nearly every eminence was crowned with a ruined castle or a hotel. It was easy to tell a hotel from a ruin-it had a sign over the door.

At one of those hotels I met up with a homesick American. He was marooned there in the rain, waiting for the skies to clear, so he could do some mountain climbing; and he was beginning to get moldy from the prevalent damp. By now the study of bathing habits had become an obsession with me; I asked him whether he had encountered any bathtubs about the place. He said a bathtub in those altitudes was as rare as a chamois, and the chamois was entirely extinct; so I might make my own calculations. But he said he could show me something that was even a greater curiosity than a bathtub, and he led me to where a moonfaced barometer hung alongside the front entrance of the hotel.

He said he had been there a week now and had about lost hope; but every time he threatened to move on, the proprietor would take him out there and prove that they were bound to have clearing weather within a few hours, because the barometer registered fair. At that moment streams of chilly rain-water were coursing down across the dial of the barometer, but it registered fair even then. He said-the American did-that it was the most stationary barometer he had ever seen, and the most reliable-not vacillating and given to moods, like most barometers, but fixed and unchangeable in its habits.

I matched it, though, with a thermometer I saw in the early spring of 1913 at a coast resort in southern California. An Eastern tourist would venture out on the windswept and drippy veranda, of a morning after breakfast. He would think he was cold. He would have many of the outward indications of being cold. His teeth would be chattering like a Morse sounder, and inside his white-duck pants his knees would be knocking together with a low, muffled sound. He would be so prickled with gooseflesh that he felt like Saint Sebastian; but he would take a look at the thermometer-sixty-one in the shade! And such was the power of mercury and mind combined over matter that he would immediately chirk up and feel warm.

Not a hundred yards away, at a drug store, was one of those fickle-minded, variable thermometers, showing a temperature that ranged from fifty-five on downward to forty; but the hotel thermometer stood firm at sixty-one, no matter what happened. In a season of trying climatic conditions it was a great comfort-a boon really-not only to its owner but to his guests. Speaking personally, however, I have no need to consult the barometer's face to see what the weather is going to do, or the thermometer's tube to see what it has done. No person needs to do so who is favored naturally as I am. I have one of the most dependable soft corns in the business.

Rome is full of baths-vast ruined ones erected by various emperors and still bearing their names-such as Caracalla's Baths and Titus' Baths, and so on. Evidently the ancient Romans were very fond of taking baths.

Other striking dissimilarities between the ancient Romans and the modern Romans are perceptible at a glance.

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