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Chapter 22

CHAPTER XXII [The Black Forest and Its Treasures]

From Baden-Baden we made the customary trip into the Black Forest. We
were on foot most of the time. One cannot describe those noble woods,
nor the feeling with which they inspire him. A feature of the feeling,
however, is a deep sense of contentment; another feature of it is a
buoyant, boyish gladness; and a third and very conspicuous feature of
it is one's sense of the remoteness of the work-day world and his entire
emancipation from it and its affairs.

Those woods stretch unbroken over a vast region; and everywhere they are
such dense woods, and so still, and so piney and fragrant. The stems of
the trees are trim and straight, and in many places all the ground is
hidden for miles under a thick cushion of moss of a vivid green color,
with not a decayed or ragged spot in its surface, and not a fallen leaf
or twig to mar its immaculate tidiness. A rich cathedral gloom pervades
the pillared aisles; so the stray flecks of sunlight that strike a trunk
here and a bough yonder are strongly accented, and when they strike the
moss they fairly seem to burn. But the weirdest effect, and the most
enchanting is that produced by the diffused light of the low afternoon
sun; no single ray is able to pierce its way in, then, but the diffused
light takes color from moss and foliage, and pervades the place like
a faint, greet-tinted mist, the theatrical fire of fairyland. The
suggestion of mystery and the supernatural which haunts the forest at
all times is intensified by this unearthly glow.

We found the Black Forest farmhouses and villages all that the Black
Forest stories have pictured them. The first genuine specimen which
we came upon was the mansion of a rich farmer and member of the Common
Council of the parish or district. He was an important personage in the
land and so was his wife also, of course. His daughter was the "catch"
of the region, and she may be already entering into immortality as the
heroine of one of Auerbach's novels, for all I know. We shall see, for
if he puts her in I shall recognize her by her Black Forest clothes,
and her burned complexion, her plump figure, her fat hands, her dull
expression, her gentle spirit, her generous feet, her bonnetless head,
and the plaited tails of hemp-colored hair hanging down her back.

The house was big enough for a hotel; it was a hundred feet long and
fifty wide, and ten feet high, from ground to eaves; but from the eaves
to the comb of the mighty roof was as much as forty feet, or maybe even
more. This roof was of ancient mud-colored straw thatch a foot thick,
and was covered all over, except in a few trifling spots, with a
thriving and luxurious growth of green vegetation, mainly moss. The
mossless spots were places where repairs had been made by the insertion
of bright new masses of yellow straw. The eaves projected far down, like
sheltering, hospitable wings. Across the gable that fronted the road,
and about ten feet above the ground, ran a narrow porch, with a wooden
railing; a row of small windows filled with very small panes looked upon
the porch. Above were two or three other little windows, one clear up
under the sharp apex of the roof. Before the ground-floor door was a
huge pile of manure. The door of the second-story room on the side of
the house was open, and occupied by the rear elevation of a cow. Was
this probably the drawing-room? All of the front half of the house from
the ground up seemed to be occupied by the people, the cows, and the
chickens, and all the rear half by draught-animals and hay. But the
chief feature, all around this house, was the big heaps of manure.

We became very familiar with the fertilizer in the Forest. We fell
unconsciously into the habit of judging of a man's station in life
by this outward and eloquent sign. Sometimes we said, "Here is a poor
devil, this is manifest." When we saw a stately accumulation, we said,
"Here is a banker." When we encountered a country-seat surrounded by an
Alpine pomp of manure, we said, "Doubtless a duke lives here."

The importance of this feature has not been properly magnified in the
Black Forest stories. Manure is evidently the Black-Forester's main
treasure--his coin, his jewel, his pride, his Old Master, his ceramics,
his bric-a-brac, his darling, his title to public consideration, envy,
veneration, and his first solicitude when he gets ready to make his
will. The true Black Forest novel, if it is ever written, will be
skeletoned somewhat in this way:


Rich old farmer, named Huss. Has inherited great wealth of manure, and
by diligence has added to it. It is double-starred in Baedeker. [1] The
Black forest artist paints it--his masterpiece. The king comes to see
it. Gretchen Huss, daughter and heiress. Paul Hoch, young neighbor,
suitor for Gretchen's hand--ostensibly; he really wants the manure. Hoch
has a good many cart-loads of the Black Forest currency himself,
and therefore is a good catch; but he is sordid, mean, and without
sentiment, whereas Gretchen is all sentiment and poetry. Hans Schmidt,
young neighbor, full of sentiment, full of poetry, loves Gretchen,
Gretchen loves him. But he has no manure. Old Huss forbids him in the
house. His heart breaks, he goes away to die in the woods, far from the
cruel world--for he says, bitterly, "What is man, without manure?"

1. When Baedeker's guide-books mention a thing and put
two stars (**) after it, it means well worth visiting.

[Interval of six months.]

Paul Hoch comes to old Huss and says, "I am at last as rich as you
required--come and view the pile." Old Huss views it and says, "It is
sufficient--take her and be happy,"--meaning Gretchen.

[Interval of two weeks.]

Wedding party assembled in old Huss's drawing-room. Hoch placid and
content, Gretchen weeping over her hard fate. Enter old Huss's head
bookkeeper. Huss says fiercely, "I gave you three weeks to find out why
your books don't balance, and to prove that you are not a defaulter;
the time is up--find me the missing property or you go to prison as
a thief." Bookkeeper: "I have found it." "Where?" Bookkeeper
(sternly--tragically): "In the bridegroom's pile!--behold the thief--see
him blench and tremble!" [Sensation.] Paul Hoch: "Lost, lost!"--falls
over the cow in a swoon and is handcuffed. Gretchen: "Saved!" Falls over
the calf in a swoon of joy, but is caught in the arms of Hans Schmidt,
who springs in at that moment. Old Huss: "What, you here, varlet? Unhand
the maid and quit the place." Hans (still supporting the insensible
girl): "Never! Cruel old man, know that I come with claims which even
you cannot despise."

Huss: "What, YOU? name them."

Hans: "Listen then. The world has forsaken me, I forsook the world, I
wandered in the solitude of the forest, longing for death but finding
none. I fed upon roots, and in my bitterness I dug for the bitterest,
loathing the sweeter kind. Digging, three days agone, I struck a manure
mine!--a Golconda, a limitless Bonanza, of solid manure! I can buy you
ALL, and have mountain ranges of manure left! Ha-ha, NOW thou smilest a
smile!" [Immense sensation.] Exhibition of specimens from the mine. Old
Huss (enthusiastically): "Wake her up, shake her up, noble young man,
she is yours!" Wedding takes place on the spot; bookkeeper restored to
his office and emoluments; Paul Hoch led off to jail. The Bonanza king
of the Black Forest lives to a good old age, blessed with the love of
his wife and of his twenty-seven children, and the still sweeter envy of
everybody around.

We took our noon meal of fried trout one day at the Plow Inn, in a very
pretty village (Ottenhoefen), and then went into the public room to rest
and smoke. There we found nine or ten Black Forest grandees assembled
around a table. They were the Common Council of the parish. They had
gathered there at eight o'clock that morning to elect a new member, and
they had now been drinking beer four hours at the new member's expense.
They were men of fifty or sixty years of age, with grave good-natured
faces, and were all dressed in the costume made familiar to us by the
Black Forest stories; broad, round-topped black felt hats with the brims
curled up all round; long red waistcoats with large metal buttons, black
alpaca coats with the waists up between the shoulders. There were no
speeches, there was but little talk, there were no frivolities; the
Council filled themselves gradually, steadily, but surely, with beer,
and conducted themselves with sedate decorum, as became men of position,
men of influence, men of manure.

We had a hot afternoon tramp up the valley, along the grassy bank of a
rushing stream of clear water, past farmhouses, water-mills, and no end
of wayside crucifixes and saints and Virgins. These crucifixes, etc.,
are set up in memory of departed friends, by survivors, and are almost
as frequent as telegraph-poles are in other lands.

We followed the carriage-road, and had our usual luck; we traveled under
a beating sun, and always saw the shade leave the shady places before we
could get to them. In all our wanderings we seldom managed to strike
a piece of road at its time for being shady. We had a particularly hot
time of it on that particular afternoon, and with no comfort but what we
could get out of the fact that the peasants at work away up on the steep
mountainsides above our heads were even worse off than we were. By and
by it became impossible to endure the intolerable glare and heat
any longer; so we struck across the ravine and entered the deep cool
twilight of the forest, to hunt for what the guide-book called the "old

We found an old road, and it proved eventually to be the right one,
though we followed it at the time with the conviction that it was the
wrong one. If it was the wrong one there could be no use in hurrying;
therefore we did not hurry, but sat down frequently on the soft moss and
enjoyed the restful quiet and shade of the forest solitudes. There had
been distractions in the carriage-road--school-children, peasants,
wagons, troops of pedestrianizing students from all over Germany--but
we had the old road to ourselves.

Now and then, while we rested, we watched the laborious ant at his work.
I found nothing new in him--certainly nothing to change my opinion of
him. It seems to me that in the matter of intellect the ant must be a
strangely overrated bird. During many summers, now, I have watched him,
when I ought to have been in better business, and I have not yet come
across a living ant that seemed to have any more sense than a dead one.
I refer to the ordinary ant, of course; I have had no experience of
those wonderful Swiss and African ones which vote, keep drilled armies,
hold slaves, and dispute about religion. Those particular ants may be
all that the naturalist paints them, but I am persuaded that the
average ant is a sham. I admit his industry, of course; he is the
hardest-working creature in the world--when anybody is looking--but
his leather-headedness is the point I make against him. He goes out
foraging, he makes a capture, and then what does he do? Go home? No--he
goes anywhere but home. He doesn't know where home is. His home may be
only three feet away--no matter, he can't find it. He makes his capture,
as I have said; it is generally something which can be of no sort of
use to himself or anybody else; it is usually seven times bigger than
it ought to be; he hunts out the awkwardest place to take hold of it;
he lifts it bodily up in the air by main force, and starts; not toward
home, but in the opposite direction; not calmly and wisely, but with a
frantic haste which is wasteful of his strength; he fetches up against
a pebble, and instead of going around it, he climbs over it backward
dragging his booty after him, tumbles down on the other side, jumps up
in a passion, kicks the dust off his clothes, moistens his hands, grabs
his property viciously, yanks it this way, then that, shoves it ahead
of him a moment, turns tail and lugs it after him another moment,
gets madder and madder, then presently hoists it into the air and goes
tearing away in an entirely new direction; comes to a weed; it never
occurs to him to go around it; no, he must climb it; and he does climb
it, dragging his worthless property to the top--which is as bright
a thing to do as it would be for me to carry a sack of flour from
Heidelberg to Paris by way of Strasburg steeple; when he gets up there
he finds that that is not the place; takes a cursory glance at the
scenery and either climbs down again or tumbles down, and starts off
once more--as usual, in a new direction. At the end of half an hour, he
fetches up within six inches of the place he started from and lays his
burden down; meantime he has been over all the ground for two yards
around, and climbed all the weeds and pebbles he came across. Now he
wipes the sweat from his brow, strokes his limbs, and then marches
aimlessly off, in as violently a hurry as ever. He does not remember to
have ever seen it before; he looks around to see which is not the way
home, grabs his bundle and starts; he goes through the same adventures
he had before; finally stops to rest, and a friend comes along.
Evidently the friend remarks that a last year's grasshopper leg is a
very noble acquisition, and inquires where he got it. Evidently the
proprietor does not remember exactly where he did get it, but thinks he
got it "around here somewhere." Evidently the friend contracts to help
him freight it home. Then, with a judgment peculiarly antic (pun not
intended), then take hold of opposite ends of that grasshopper leg and
begin to tug with all their might in opposite directions. Presently they
take a rest and confer together. They decide that something is wrong,
they can't make out what. Then they go at it again, just as before. Same
result. Mutual recriminations follow. Evidently each accuses the other
of being an obstructionist. They lock themselves together and chew each
other's jaws for a while; then they roll and tumble on the ground till
one loses a horn or a leg and has to haul off for repairs. They make up
and go to work again in the same old insane way, but the crippled ant is
at a disadvantage; tug as he may, the other one drags off the booty and
him at the end of it. Instead of giving up, he hangs on, and gets his
shins bruised against every obstruction that comes in the way. By and
by, when that grasshopper leg has been dragged all over the same old
ground once more, it is finally dumped at about the spot where it
originally lay, the two perspiring ants inspect it thoughtfully and
decide that dried grasshopper legs are a poor sort of property after
all, and then each starts off in a different direction to see if he
can't find an old nail or something else that is heavy enough to afford
entertainment and at the same time valueless enough to make an ant want
to own it.

There in the Black Forest, on the mountainside, I saw an ant go through
with such a performance as this with a dead spider of fully ten times
his own weight. The spider was not quite dead, but too far gone
to resist. He had a round body the size of a pea. The little ant
--observing that I was noticing--turned him on his back, sunk his fangs
into his throat, lifted him into the air and started vigorously off with
him, stumbling over little pebbles, stepping on the spider's legs and
tripping himself up, dragging him backward, shoving him bodily ahead,
dragging him up stones six inches high instead of going around them,
climbing weeds twenty times his own height and jumping from their
summits--and finally leaving him in the middle of the road to be
confiscated by any other fool of an ant that wanted him. I measured the
ground which this ass traversed, and arrived at the conclusion that what
he had accomplished inside of twenty minutes would constitute some
such job as this--relatively speaking--for a man; to wit: to strap two
eight-hundred-pound horses together, carry them eighteen hundred feet,
mainly over (not around) boulders averaging six feet high, and in the
course of the journey climb up and jump from the top of one precipice
like Niagara, and three steeples, each a hundred and twenty feet high;
and then put the horses down, in an exposed place, without anybody to
watch them, and go off to indulge in some other idiotic miracle for
vanity's sake.

Science has recently discovered that the ant does not lay up anything
for winter use. This will knock him out of literature, to some extent.
He does not work, except when people are looking, and only then when the
observer has a green, naturalistic look, and seems to be taking notes.
This amounts to deception, and will injure him for the Sunday-schools.
He has not judgment enough to know what is good to eat from what isn't.
This amounts to ignorance, and will impair the world's respect for
him. He cannot stroll around a stump and find his way home again. This
amounts to idiocy, and once the damaging fact is established, thoughtful
people will cease to look up to him, the sentimental will cease to
fondle him. His vaunted industry is but a vanity and of no effect, since
he never gets home with anything he starts with. This disposes of the
last remnant of his reputation and wholly destroys his main usefulness
as a moral agent, since it will make the sluggard hesitate to go to him
any more. It is strange, beyond comprehension, that so manifest a humbug
as the ant has been able to fool so many nations and keep it up so many
ages without being found out.

The ant is strong, but we saw another strong thing, where we had not
suspected the presence of much muscular power before. A toadstool--that
vegetable which springs to full growth in a single night--had torn loose
and lifted a matted mass of pine needles and dirt of twice its own bulk
into the air, and supported it there, like a column supporting a shed.
Ten thousand toadstools, with the right purchase, could lift a man, I
suppose. But what good would it do?

All our afternoon's progress had been uphill. About five or half past we
reached the summit, and all of a sudden the dense curtain of the forest
parted and we looked down into a deep and beautiful gorge and out over a
wide panorama of wooded mountains with their summits shining in the sun
and their glade-furrowed sides dimmed with purple shade. The gorge under
our feet--called Allerheiligen--afforded room in the grassy level at its
head for a cozy and delightful human nest, shut away from the world and
its botherations, and consequently the monks of the old times had not
failed to spy it out; and here were the brown and comely ruins of their
church and convent to prove that priests had as fine an instinct seven
hundred years ago in ferreting out the choicest nooks and corners in a
land as priests have today.

A big hotel crowds the ruins a little, now, and drives a brisk trade
with summer tourists. We descended into the gorge and had a supper which
would have been very satisfactory if the trout had not been boiled.
The Germans are pretty sure to boil a trout or anything else if left to
their own devices. This is an argument of some value in support of the
theory that they were the original colonists of the wild islands of the
coast of Scotland. A schooner laden with oranges was wrecked upon one
of those islands a few years ago, and the gentle savages rendered the
captain such willing assistance that he gave them as many oranges as
they wanted. Next day he asked them how they liked them. They shook
their heads and said:

"Baked, they were tough; and even boiled, they warn't things for a
hungry man to hanker after."

We went down the glen after supper. It is beautiful--a mixture of sylvan
loveliness and craggy wildness. A limpid torrent goes whistling down
the glen, and toward the foot of it winds through a narrow cleft between
lofty precipices and hurls itself over a succession of falls. After one
passes the last of these he has a backward glimpse at the falls which
is very pleasing--they rise in a seven-stepped stairway of foamy and
glittering cascades, and make a picture which is as charming as it is

Mark Twain