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Chapter 47

CHAPTER XLVII [Queer European Manners]

We spent a few pleasant restful days at Geneva, that delightful city
where accurate time-pieces are made for all the rest of the world, but
whose own clocks never give the correct time of day by any accident.

Geneva is filled with pretty shops, and the shops are filled with the
most enticing gimacrackery, but if one enters one of these places he is
at once pounced upon, and followed up, and so persecuted to buy this,
that, and the other thing, that he is very grateful to get out again,
and is not at all apt to repeat his experiment. The shopkeepers of the
smaller sort, in Geneva, are as troublesome and persistent as are
the salesmen of that monster hive in Paris, the Grands Magasins du
Louvre--an establishment where ill-mannered pestering, pursuing, and
insistence have been reduced to a science.

In Geneva, prices in the smaller shops are very elastic--that is
another bad feature. I was looking in at a window at a very pretty
string of beads, suitable for a child. I was only admiring them; I had
no use for them; I hardly ever wear beads. The shopwoman came out and
offered them to me for thirty-five francs. I said it was cheap, but I
did not need them.

"Ah, but monsieur, they are so beautiful!"

I confessed it, but said they were not suitable for one of my age and
simplicity of character. She darted in and brought them out and tried to
force them into my hands, saying:

"Ah, but only see how lovely they are! Surely monsieur will take them;
monsieur shall have them for thirty francs. There, I have said it--it is
a loss, but one must live."

I dropped my hands, and tried to move her to respect my unprotected
situation. But no, she dangled the beads in the sun before my face,
exclaiming, "Ah, monsieur CANNOT resist them!" She hung them on my coat
button, folded her hand resignedly, and said: "Gone,--and for thirty
francs, the lovely things--it is incredible!--but the good God will
sanctify the sacrifice to me."

I removed them gently, returned them, and walked away, shaking my head
and smiling a smile of silly embarrassment while the passers-by halted
to observe. The woman leaned out of her door, shook the beads, and
screamed after me:

"Monsieur shall have them for twenty-eight!"

I shook my head.

"Twenty-seven! It is a cruel loss, it is ruin--but take them, only take
them."

I still retreated, still wagging my head.

"MON DIEU, they shall even go for twenty-six! There, I have said it.
Come!"

I wagged another negative. A nurse and a little English girl had been
near me, and were following me, now. The shopwoman ran to the nurse,
thrust the beads into her hands, and said:

"Monsieur shall have them for twenty-five! Take them to the hotel--he
shall send me the money tomorrow--next day--when he likes." Then to the
child: "When thy father sends me the money, come thou also, my angel,
and thou shall have something oh so pretty!"

I was thus providentially saved. The nurse refused the beads squarely
and firmly, and that ended the matter.

The "sights" of Geneva are not numerous. I made one attempt to hunt up
the houses once inhabited by those two disagreeable people, Rousseau and
Calvin, but I had no success. Then I concluded to go home. I found
it was easier to propose to do that than to do it; for that town is a
bewildering place. I got lost in a tangle of narrow and crooked streets,
and stayed lost for an hour or two. Finally I found a street which
looked somewhat familiar, and said to myself, "Now I am at home, I
judge." But I was wrong; this was "HELL street." Presently I found
another place which had a familiar look, and said to myself, "Now I am
at home, sure." It was another error. This was "PURGATORY street." After
a little I said, "NOW I've got the right place, anyway ... no, this is
'PARADISE street'; I'm further from home than I was in the beginning."
Those were queer names--Calvin was the author of them, likely.
"Hell" and "Purgatory" fitted those two streets like a glove, but the
"Paradise" appeared to be sarcastic.

I came out on the lake-front, at last, and then I knew where I was.
I was walking along before the glittering jewelry shops when I saw a
curious performance. A lady passed by, and a trim dandy lounged across
the walk in such an apparently carefully timed way as to bring himself
exactly in front of her when she got to him; he made no offer to step
out of the way; he did not apologize; he did not even notice her. She
had to stop still and let him lounge by. I wondered if he had done that
piece of brutality purposely. He strolled to a chair and seated himself
at a small table; two or three other males were sitting at similar
tables sipping sweetened water. I waited; presently a youth came by, and
this fellow got up and served him the same trick. Still, it did not seem
possible that any one could do such a thing deliberately. To satisfy my
curiosity I went around the block, and, sure enough, as I approached, at
a good round speed, he got up and lounged lazily across my path, fouling
my course exactly at the right moment to receive all my weight. This
proved that his previous performances had not been accidental, but
intentional.

I saw that dandy's curious game played afterward, in Paris, but not
for amusement; not with a motive of any sort, indeed, but simply from a
selfish indifference to other people's comfort and rights. One does not
see it as frequently in Paris as he might expect to, for there the law
says, in effect, "It is the business of the weak to get out of the way
of the strong." We fine a cabman if he runs over a citizen; Paris fines
the citizen for being run over. At least so everybody says--but I saw
something which caused me to doubt; I saw a horseman run over an old
woman one day--the police arrested him and took him away. That looked as
if they meant to punish him.

It will not do for me to find merit in American manners--for are they
not the standing butt for the jests of critical and polished Europe?
Still, I must venture to claim one little matter of superiority in our
manners; a lady may traverse our streets all day, going and coming as
she chooses, and she will never be molested by any man; but if a lady,
unattended, walks abroad in the streets of London, even at noonday, she
will be pretty likely to be accosted and insulted--and not by drunken
sailors, but by men who carry the look and wear the dress of gentlemen.
It is maintained that these people are not gentlemen, but are a lower
sort, disguised as gentlemen. The case of Colonel Valentine Baker
obstructs that argument, for a man cannot become an officer in the
British army except he hold the rank of gentleman. This person, finding
himself alone in a railway compartment with an unprotected girl--but
it is an atrocious story, and doubtless the reader remembers it well
enough. London must have been more or less accustomed to Bakers, and the
ways of Bakers, else London would have been offended and excited. Baker
was "imprisoned"--in a parlor; and he could not have been more visited,
or more overwhelmed with attentions, if he had committed six murders and
then--while the gallows was preparing--"got religion"--after the manner
of the holy Charles Peace, of saintly memory. Arkansaw--it seems a
little indelicate to be trumpeting forth our own superiorities, and
comparisons are always odious, but still--Arkansaw would certainly have
hanged Baker. I do not say she would have tried him first, but she would
have hanged him, anyway.

Even the most degraded woman can walk our streets unmolested, her sex
and her weakness being her sufficient protection. She will encounter
less polish than she would in the old world, but she will run across
enough humanity to make up for it.

The music of a donkey awoke us early in the morning, and we rose up and
made ready for a pretty formidable walk--to Italy; but the road was so
level that we took the train.. We lost a good deal of time by this, but
it was no matter, we were not in a hurry. We were four hours going to
Chamb`ery. The Swiss trains go upward of three miles an hour, in places,
but they are quite safe.

That aged French town of Chamb`ery was as quaint and crooked as
Heilbronn. A drowsy reposeful quiet reigned in the back streets which
made strolling through them very pleasant, barring the almost unbearable
heat of the sun. In one of these streets, which was eight feet wide,
gracefully curved, and built up with small antiquated houses, I saw
three fat hogs lying asleep, and a boy (also asleep) taking care of
them. From queer old-fashioned windows along the curve projected boxes
of bright flowers, and over the edge of one of these boxes hung the head
and shoulders of a cat--asleep. The five sleeping creatures were the
only living things visible in that street. There was not a sound;
absolute stillness prevailed. It was Sunday; one is not used to
such dreamy Sundays on the continent. In our part of the town it was
different that night. A regiment of brown and battered soldiers had
arrived home from Algiers, and I judged they got thirsty on the way.
They sang and drank till dawn, in the pleasant open air.

We left for Turin at ten the next morning by a railway which was
profusely decorated with tunnels. We forgot to take a lantern along,
consequently we missed all the scenery. Our compartment was full. A
ponderous tow-headed Swiss woman, who put on many fine-lady airs, but
was evidently more used to washing linen than wearing it, sat in a
corner seat and put her legs across into the opposite one, propping them
intermediately with her up-ended valise. In the seat thus pirated, sat
two Americans, greatly incommoded by that woman's majestic coffin-clad
feet. One of them begged, politely, to remove them. She opened her wide
eyes and gave him a stare, but answered nothing. By and by he proferred
his request again, with great respectfulness. She said, in good English,
and in a deeply offended tone, that she had paid her passage and was not
going to be bullied out of her "rights" by ill-bred foreigners, even if
she was alone and unprotected.

"But I have rights, also, madam. My ticket entitles me to a seat, but
you are occupying half of it."

"I will not talk with you, sir. What right have you to speak to me? I
do not know you. One would know you came from a land where there are no
gentlemen. No GENTLEMAN would treat a lady as you have treated me."

"I come from a region where a lady would hardly give me the same
provocation."

"You have insulted me, sir! You have intimated that I am not a lady--and
I hope I am NOT one, after the pattern of your country."

"I beg that you will give yourself no alarm on that head, madam; but at
the same time I must insist--always respectfully--that you let me have
my seat."

Here the fragile laundress burst into tears and sobs.

"I never was so insulted before! Never, never! It is shameful, it is
brutal, it is base, to bully and abuse an unprotected lady who has
lost the use of her limbs and cannot put her feet to the floor without
agony!"

"Good heavens, madam, why didn't you say that at first! I offer a
thousand pardons. And I offer them most sincerely. I did not know--I
COULD not know--anything was the matter. You are most welcome to the
seat, and would have been from the first if I had only known. I am truly
sorry it all happened, I do assure you."

But he couldn't get a word of forgiveness out of her. She simply sobbed
and sniffed in a subdued but wholly unappeasable way for two long hours,
meantime crowding the man more than ever with her undertaker-furniture
and paying no sort of attention to his frequent and humble little
efforts to do something for her comfort. Then the train halted at the
Italian line and she hopped up and marched out of the car with as firm a
leg as any washerwoman of all her tribe! And how sick I was, to see how
she had fooled me.

Turin is a very fine city. In the matter of roominess it transcends
anything that was ever dreamed of before, I fancy. It sits in the midst
of a vast dead-level, and one is obliged to imagine that land may be
had for the asking, and no taxes to pay, so lavishly do they use it. The
streets are extravagantly wide, the paved squares are prodigious, the
houses are huge and handsome, and compacted into uniform blocks that
stretch away as straight as an arrow, into the distance. The sidewalks
are about as wide as ordinary European STREETS, and are covered over
with a double arcade supported on great stone piers or columns. One
walks from one end to the other of these spacious streets, under shelter
all the time, and all his course is lined with the prettiest of shops
and the most inviting dining-houses.

There is a wide and lengthy court, glittering with the most wickedly
enticing shops, which is roofed with glass, high aloft overhead, and
paved with soft-toned marbles laid in graceful figures; and at night
when the place is brilliant with gas and populous with a sauntering and
chatting and laughing multitude of pleasure-seekers, it is a spectacle
worth seeing.

Everything is on a large scale; the public buildings, for instance--and
they are architecturally imposing, too, as well as large. The big
squares have big bronze monuments in them. At the hotel they gave us
rooms that were alarming, for size, and parlor to match. It was well the
weather required no fire in the parlor, for I think one might as well
have tried to warm a park. The place would have a warm look, though, in
any weather, for the window-curtains were of red silk damask, and the
walls were covered with the same fire-hued goods--so, also, were the
four sofas and the brigade of chairs. The furniture, the ornaments, the
chandeliers, the carpets, were all new and bright and costly. We did not
need a parlor at all, but they said it belonged to the two bedrooms and
we might use it if we chose. Since it was to cost nothing, we were not
averse to using it, of course.

Turin must surely read a good deal, for it has more book-stores to the
square rod than any other town I know of. And it has its own share of
military folk. The Italian officers' uniforms are very much the most
beautiful I have ever seen; and, as a general thing, the men in them
were as handsome as the clothes. They were not large men, but they had
fine forms, fine features, rich olive complexions, and lustrous black
eyes.

For several weeks I had been culling all the information I could about
Italy, from tourists. The tourists were all agreed upon one thing--one
must expect to be cheated at every turn by the Italians. I took an
evening walk in Turin, and presently came across a little Punch and Judy
show in one of the great squares. Twelve or fifteen people constituted
the audience. This miniature theater was not much bigger than a man's
coffin stood on end; the upper part was open and displayed a
tinseled parlor--a good-sized handkerchief would have answered for a
drop-curtain; the footlights consisted of a couple of candle-ends an
inch long; various manikins the size of dolls appeared on the stage and
made long speeches at each other, gesticulating a good deal, and they
generally had a fight before they got through. They were worked by
strings from above, and the illusion was not perfect, for one saw not
only the strings but the brawny hand that manipulated them--and the
actors and actresses all talked in the same voice, too. The audience
stood in front of the theater, and seemed to enjoy the performance
heartily.

When the play was done, a youth in his shirt-sleeves started around with
a small copper saucer to make a collection. I did not know how much to
put in, but thought I would be guided by my predecessors. Unluckily, I
only had two of these, and they did not help me much because they did
not put in anything. I had no Italian money, so I put in a small Swiss
coin worth about ten cents. The youth finished his collection trip and
emptied the result on the stage; he had some very animated talk with
the concealed manager, then he came working his way through the little
crowd--seeking me, I thought. I had a mind to slip away, but concluded
I wouldn't; I would stand my ground, and confront the villainy, whatever
it was. The youth stood before me and held up that Swiss coin, sure
enough, and said something. I did not understand him, but I judged he
was requiring Italian money of me. The crowd gathered close, to listen.
I was irritated, and said--in English, of course:

"I know it's Swiss, but you'll take that or none. I haven't any other."

He tried to put the coin in my hand, and spoke again. I drew my hand
away, and said:

"NO, sir. I know all about you people. You can't play any of your
fraudful tricks on me. If there is a discount on that coin, I am sorry,
but I am not going to make it good. I noticed that some of the audience
didn't pay you anything at all. You let them go, without a word, but you
come after me because you think I'm a stranger and will put up with
an extortion rather than have a scene. But you are mistaken this
time--you'll take that Swiss money or none."

The youth stood there with the coin in his fingers, nonplused and
bewildered; of course he had not understood a word. An English-speaking
Italian spoke up, now, and said:

"You are misunderstanding the boy. He does not mean any harm. He did
not suppose you gave him so much money purposely, so he hurried back to
return you the coin lest you might get away before you discovered your
mistake. Take it, and give him a penny--that will make everything smooth
again."

I probably blushed, then, for there was occasion. Through the
interpreter I begged the boy's pardon, but I nobly refused to take back
the ten cents. I said I was accustomed to squandering large sums in that
way--it was the kind of person I was. Then I retired to make a note to
the effect that in Italy persons connected with the drama do not cheat.

The episode with the showman reminds me of a dark chapter in my history.
I once robbed an aged and blind beggar-woman of four dollars--in a
church. It happened this way. When I was out with the Innocents Abroad,
the ship stopped in the Russian port of Odessa and I went ashore, with
others, to view the town. I got separated from the rest, and wandered
about alone, until late in the afternoon, when I entered a Greek church
to see what it was like. When I was ready to leave, I observed two
wrinkled old women standing stiffly upright against the inner wall, near
the door, with their brown palms open to receive alms. I contributed to
the nearer one, and passed out. I had gone fifty yards, perhaps, when it
occurred to me that I must remain ashore all night, as I had heard that
the ship's business would carry her away at four o'clock and keep her
away until morning. It was a little after four now. I had come ashore
with only two pieces of money, both about the same size, but differing
largely in value--one was a French gold piece worth four dollars, the
other a Turkish coin worth two cents and a half. With a sudden and
horrified misgiving, I put my hand in my pocket, now, and sure enough, I
fetched out that Turkish penny!

Here was a situation. A hotel would require pay in advance--I must walk
the street all night, and perhaps be arrested as a suspicious character.
There was but one way out of the difficulty--I flew back to the church,
and softly entered. There stood the old woman yet, and in the palm of
the nearest one still lay my gold piece. I was grateful. I crept
close, feeling unspeakably mean; I got my Turkish penny ready, and was
extending a trembling hand to make the nefarious exchange, when I heard
a cough behind me. I jumped back as if I had been accused, and stood
quaking while a worshiper entered and passed up the aisle.

I was there a year trying to steal that money; that is, it seemed a
year, though, of course, it must have been much less. The worshipers
went and came; there were hardly ever three in the church at once, but
there was always one or more. Every time I tried to commit my crime
somebody came in or somebody started out, and I was prevented; but at
last my opportunity came; for one moment there was nobody in the church
but the two beggar-women and me. I whipped the gold piece out of the
poor old pauper's palm and dropped my Turkish penny in its place. Poor
old thing, she murmured her thanks--they smote me to the heart. Then I
sped away in a guilty hurry, and even when I was a mile from the church
I was still glancing back, every moment, to see if I was being pursued.

That experience has been of priceless value and benefit to me; for I
resolved then, that as long as I lived I would never again rob a blind
beggar-woman in a church; and I have always kept my word. The most
permanent lessons in morals are those which come, not of booky teaching,
but of experience.

Mark Twain