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Chapter 21

CHAPTER XXI [Insolent Shopkeepers and Gabbling Americans]

Baden-Baden sits in the lap of the hills, and the natural and artificial
beauties of the surroundings are combined effectively and charmingly.
The level strip of ground which stretches through and beyond the town is
laid out in handsome pleasure grounds, shaded by noble trees and adorned
at intervals with lofty and sparkling fountain-jets. Thrice a day a fine
band makes music in the public promenade before the Conversation
House, and in the afternoon and evening that locality is populous with
fashionably dressed people of both sexes, who march back and forth past
the great music-stand and look very much bored, though they make a
show of feeling otherwise. It seems like a rather aimless and stupid
existence. A good many of these people are there for a real purpose,
however; they are racked with rheumatism, and they are there to stew it
out in the hot baths. These invalids looked melancholy enough, limping
about on their canes and crutches, and apparently brooding over all
sorts of cheerless things. People say that Germany, with her damp stone
houses, is the home of rheumatism. If that is so, Providence must have
foreseen that it would be so, and therefore filled the land with the
healing baths. Perhaps no other country is so generously supplied with
medicinal springs as Germany. Some of these baths are good for one
ailment, some for another; and again, peculiar ailments are conquered
by combining the individual virtues of several different baths. For
instance, for some forms of disease, the patient drinks the native hot
water of Baden-Baden, with a spoonful of salt from the Carlsbad springs
dissolved in it. That is not a dose to be forgotten right away.

They don't SELL this hot water; no, you go into the great Trinkhalle,
and stand around, first on one foot and then on the other, while two or
three young girls sit pottering at some sort of ladylike sewing-work
in your neighborhood and can't seem to see you--polite as three-dollar
clerks in government offices.

By and by one of these rises painfully, and "stretches"--stretches fists
and body heavenward till she raises her heels from the floor, at the
same time refreshing herself with a yawn of such comprehensiveness that
the bulk of her face disappears behind her upper lip and one is able to
see how she is constructed inside--then she slowly closes her
cavern, brings down her fists and her heels, comes languidly forward,
contemplates you contemptuously, draws you a glass of hot water and sets
it down where you can get it by reaching for it. You take it and say:

"How much?"--and she returns you, with elaborate indifference, a
beggar's answer:

"NACH BELIEBE" (what you please.)

This thing of using the common beggar's trick and the common beggar's
shibboleth to put you on your liberality when you were expecting a
simple straightforward commercial transaction, adds a little to your
prospering sense of irritation. You ignore her reply, and ask again:

"How much?"

--and she calmly, indifferently, repeats:

"NACH BELIEBE."

You are getting angry, but you are trying not to show it; you resolve
to keep on asking your question till she changes her answer, or at least
her annoyingly indifferent manner. Therefore, if your case be like mine,
you two fools stand there, and without perceptible emotion of any kind,
or any emphasis on any syllable, you look blandly into each other's
eyes, and hold the following idiotic conversation:

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

"How much?"

"NACH BELIEBE."

I do not know what another person would have done, but at this point I
gave up; that cast-iron indifference, that tranquil contemptuousness,
conquered me, and I struck my colors. Now I knew she was used to
receiving about a penny from manly people who care nothing about the
opinions of scullery-maids, and about tuppence from moral cowards; but
I laid a silver twenty-five cent piece within her reach and tried to
shrivel her up with this sarcastic speech:

"If it isn't enough, will you stoop sufficiently from your official
dignity to say so?"

She did not shrivel. Without deigning to look at me at all, she
languidly lifted the coin and bit it!--to see if it was good. Then she
turned her back and placidly waddled to her former roost again, tossing
the money into an open till as she went along. She was victor to the
last, you see.

I have enlarged upon the ways of this girl because they are typical;
her manners are the manners of a goodly number of the Baden-Baden
shopkeepers. The shopkeeper there swindles you if he can, and insults
you whether he succeeds in swindling you or not. The keepers of baths
also take great and patient pains to insult you. The frowsy woman who
sat at the desk in the lobby of the great Friederichsbad and sold bath
tickets, not only insulted me twice every day, with rigid fidelity
to her great trust, but she took trouble enough to cheat me out of a
shilling, one day, to have fairly entitled her to ten. Baden-Baden's
splendid gamblers are gone, only her microscopic knaves remain.

An English gentleman who had been living there several years, said:

"If you could disguise your nationality, you would not find any
insolence here. These shopkeepers detest the English and despise the
Americans; they are rude to both, more especially to ladies of your
nationality and mine. If these go shopping without a gentleman or a
man-servant, they are tolerably sure to be subjected to petty insolences
--insolences of manner and tone, rather than word, though words that
are hard to bear are not always wanting. I know of an instance where
a shopkeeper tossed a coin back to an American lady with the remark,
snappishly uttered, 'We don't take French money here.' And I know of a
case where an English lady said to one of these shopkeepers, 'Don't
you think you ask too much for this article?' and he replied with the
question, 'Do you think you are obliged to buy it?' However, these
people are not impolite to Russians or Germans. And as to rank, they
worship that, for they have long been used to generals and nobles. If
you wish to see what abysses servility can descend, present yourself
before a Baden-Baden shopkeeper in the character of a Russian prince."

It is an inane town, filled with sham, and petty fraud, and snobbery,
but the baths are good. I spoke with many people, and they were all
agreed in that. I had the twinges of rheumatism unceasingly during three
years, but the last one departed after a fortnight's bathing there,
and I have never had one since. I fully believe I left my rheumatism in
Baden-Baden. Baden-Baden is welcome to it. It was little, but it was
all I had to give. I would have preferred to leave something that was
catching, but it was not in my power.

There are several hot springs there, and during two thousand years they
have poured forth a never-diminishing abundance of the healing water.
This water is conducted in pipe to the numerous bath-houses, and is
reduced to an endurable temperature by the addition of cold water. The
new Friederichsbad is a very large and beautiful building, and in it one
may have any sort of bath that has ever been invented, and with all
the additions of herbs and drugs that his ailment may need or that the
physician of the establishment may consider a useful thing to put into
the water. You go there, enter the great door, get a bow graduated to
your style and clothes from the gorgeous portier, and a bath ticket and
an insult from the frowsy woman for a quarter; she strikes a bell and
a serving-man conducts you down a long hall and shuts you into a
commodious room which has a washstand, a mirror, a bootjack, and a sofa
in it, and there you undress at your leisure.

The room is divided by a great curtain; you draw this curtain aside, and
find a large white marble bathtub, with its rim sunk to the level of the
floor, and with three white marble steps leading down to it. This tub
is full of water which is as clear as crystal, and is tempered to 28
degrees Re'aumur (about 95 degrees Fahrenheit). Sunk into the floor, by
the tub, is a covered copper box which contains some warm towels and a
sheet. You look fully as white as an angel when you are stretched out
in that limpid bath. You remain in it ten minutes, the first time,
and afterward increase the duration from day to day, till you reach
twenty-five or thirty minutes. There you stop. The appointments of the
place are so luxurious, the benefit so marked, the price so moderate,
and the insults so sure, that you very soon find yourself adoring the
Friederichsbad and infesting it.

We had a plain, simple, unpretending, good hotel, in Baden-Baden--the
Hôtel de France--and alongside my room I had a giggling, cackling,
chattering family who always went to bed just two hours after me and
always got up two hours ahead of me. But this is common in German
hotels; the people generally go to bed long after eleven and get up
long before eight. The partitions convey sound like a drum-head, and
everybody knows it; but no matter, a German family who are all kindness
and consideration in the daytime make apparently no effort to moderate
their noises for your benefit at night. They will sing, laugh, and talk
loudly, and bang furniture around in a most pitiless way. If you knock
on your wall appealingly, they will quiet down and discuss the matter
softly among themselves for a moment--then, like the mice, they fall to
persecuting you again, and as vigorously as before. They keep cruelly
late and early hours, for such noisy folk.

Of course, when one begins to find fault with foreign people's ways, he
is very likely to get a reminder to look nearer home, before he gets far
with it. I open my note-book to see if I can find some more information
of a valuable nature about Baden-Baden, and the first thing I fall upon
is this:

"BADEN-BADEN (no date). Lot of vociferous Americans at breakfast
this morning. Talking AT everybody, while pretending to talk among
themselves. On their first travels, manifestly. Showing off. The usual
signs--airy, easy-going references to grand distances and foreign
places. 'Well GOOD-by, old fellow--if I don't run across you in Italy,
you hunt me up in London before you sail.'"

The next item which I find in my note-book is this one:

"The fact that a band of 6,000 Indians are now murdering our
frontiersmen at their impudent leisure, and that we are only able
to send 1,200 soldiers against them, is utilized here to discourage
emigration to America. The common people think the Indians are in New
Jersey."

This is a new and peculiar argument against keeping our army down to a
ridiculous figure in the matter of numbers. It is rather a striking
one, too. I have not distorted the truth in saying that the facts in
the above item, about the army and the Indians, are made use of to
discourage emigration to America. That the common people should be
rather foggy in their geography, and foggy as to the location of the
Indians, is a matter for amusement, maybe, but not of surprise.

There is an interesting old cemetery in Baden-Baden, and we spent
several pleasant hours in wandering through it and spelling out the
inscriptions on the aged tombstones. Apparently after a man has laid
there a century or two, and has had a good many people buried on top
of him, it is considered that his tombstone is not needed by him any
longer. I judge so from the fact that hundreds of old gravestones have
been removed from the graves and placed against the inner walls of the
cemetery. What artists they had in the old times! They chiseled angels
and cherubs and devils and skeletons on the tombstones in the most
lavish and generous way--as to supply--but curiously grotesque and
outlandish as to form. It is not always easy to tell which of the
figures belong among the blest and which of them among the opposite
party. But there was an inscription, in French, on one of those old
stones, which was quaint and pretty, and was plainly not the work of any
other than a poet. It was to this effect:

Here Reposes in God, Caroline de Clery, a Religieuse
of St. Denis aged 83 years--and blind. The light
was restored to her in Baden the 5th of January, 1839

We made several excursions on foot to the neighboring villages, over
winding and beautiful roads and through enchanting woodland scenery.
The woods and roads were similar to those at Heidelberg, but not
so bewitching. I suppose that roads and woods which are up to the
Heidelberg mark are rare in the world.

Once we wandered clear away to La Favorita Palace, which is several
miles from Baden-Baden. The grounds about the palace were fine; the
palace was a curiosity. It was built by a Margravine in 1725, and
remains as she left it at her death. We wandered through a great many
of its rooms, and they all had striking peculiarities of decoration.
For instance, the walls of one room were pretty completely covered
with small pictures of the Margravine in all conceivable varieties of
fanciful costumes, some of them male.

The walls of another room were covered with grotesquely and elaborately
figured hand-wrought tapestry. The musty ancient beds remained in the
chambers, and their quilts and curtains and canopies were decorated with
curious handwork, and the walls and ceilings frescoed with historical
and mythological scenes in glaring colors. There was enough crazy and
rotten rubbish in the building to make a true brick-a-bracker green with
envy. A painting in the dining-hall verged upon the indelicate--but
then the Margravine was herself a trifle indelicate.

It is in every way a wildly and picturesquely decorated house, and
brimful of interest as a reflection of the character and tastes of that
rude bygone time.

In the grounds, a few rods from the palace, stands the Margravine's
chapel, just as she left it--a coarse wooden structure, wholly barren
of ornament. It is said that the Margravine would give herself up to
debauchery and exceedingly fast living for several months at a time,
and then retire to this miserable wooden den and spend a few months in
repenting and getting ready for another good time. She was a devoted
Catholic, and was perhaps quite a model sort of a Christian as
Christians went then, in high life.

Tradition says she spent the last two years of her life in the strange
den I have been speaking of, after having indulged herself in one final,
triumphant, and satisfying spree. She shut herself up there, without
company, and without even a servant, and so abjured and forsook the
world. In her little bit of a kitchen she did her own cooking; she wore
a hair shirt next the skin, and castigated herself with whips--these
aids to grace are exhibited there yet. She prayed and told her beads,
in another little room, before a waxen Virgin niched in a little box
against the wall; she bedded herself like a slave.

In another small room is an unpainted wooden table, and behind it sit
half-life-size waxen figures of the Holy Family, made by the very worst
artist that ever lived, perhaps, and clothed in gaudy, flimsy drapery.
[1] The margravine used to bring her meals to this table and DINE WITH
THE HOLY FAMILY. What an idea that was! What a grisly spectacle it must
have been! Imagine it: Those rigid, shock-headed figures, with corpsy
complexions and fish glass eyes, occupying one side of the table in the
constrained attitudes and dead fixedness that distinguish all men that
are born of wax, and this wrinkled, smoldering old fire-eater occupying
the other side, mumbling her prayers and munching her sausages in the
ghostly stillness and shadowy indistinctness of a winter twilight. It
makes one feel crawly even to think of it.

1. The Savior was represented as a lad of about fifteen
years of age. This figure had lost one eye.

In this sordid place, and clothed, bedded, and fed like a pauper, this
strange princess lived and worshiped during two years, and in it she
died. Two or three hundred years ago, this would have made the poor den
holy ground; and the church would have set up a miracle-factory there
and made plenty of money out of it. The den could be moved into some
portions of France and made a good property even now.

Mark Twain