Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "I read part of it all the way through."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 12

    • Rate it:
    • 1 Favorite on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 13
    Previous Chapter
    We have come five hundred miles by rail through the heart of France.
    What a bewitching land it is! What a garden! Surely the leagues of
    bright green lawns are swept and brushed and watered every day and their
    grasses trimmed by the barber. Surely the hedges are shaped and measured
    and their symmetry preserved by the most architectural of gardeners.
    Surely the long straight rows of stately poplars that divide the
    beautiful landscape like the squares of a checker-board are set with line
    and plummet, and their uniform height determined with a spirit level.
    Surely the straight, smooth, pure white turnpikes are jack-planed and
    sandpapered every day. How else are these marvels of symmetry,
    cleanliness, and order attained? It is wonderful. There are no
    unsightly stone walls and never a fence of any kind. There is no dirt,
    no decay, no rubbish anywhere--nothing that even hints at untidiness
    --nothing that ever suggests neglect. All is orderly and beautiful--every
    thing is charming to the eye.

    We had such glimpses of the Rhone gliding along between its grassy banks;
    of cosy cottages buried in flowers and shrubbery; of quaint old red-tiled
    villages with mossy medieval cathedrals looming out of their midst; of
    wooded hills with ivy-grown towers and turrets of feudal castles
    projecting above the foliage; such glimpses of Paradise, it seemed to us,
    such visions of fabled fairyland!

    We knew then what the poet meant when he sang of: "--thy cornfields
    green, and sunny vines, O pleasant land of France!"

    And it is a pleasant land. No word describes it so felicitously as that
    one. They say there is no word for "home" in the French language. Well,
    considering that they have the article itself in such an attractive
    aspect, they ought to manage to get along without the word. Let us not
    waste too much pity on "homeless" France. I have observed that Frenchmen
    abroad seldom wholly give up the idea of going back to France some time
    or other. I am not surprised at it now.

    We are not infatuated with these French railway cars, though. We took
    first-class passage, not because we wished to attract attention by doing
    a thing which is uncommon in Europe but because we could make our journey
    quicker by so doing. It is hard to make railroading pleasant in any
    country. It is too tedious. Stagecoaching is infinitely more
    delightful. Once I crossed the plains and deserts and mountains of the
    West in a stagecoach, from the Missouri line to California, and since
    then all my pleasure trips must be measured to that rare holiday frolic.
    Two thousand miles of ceaseless rush and rattle and clatter, by night and
    by day, and never a weary moment, never a lapse of interest! The first
    seven hundred miles a level continent, its grassy carpet greener and
    softer and smoother than any sea and figured with designs fitted to its
    magnitude--the shadows of the clouds. Here were no scenes but summer
    scenes, and no disposition inspired by them but to lie at full length on
    the mail sacks in the grateful breeze and dreamily smoke the pipe of
    peace--what other, where all was repose and contentment? In cool
    mornings, before the sun was fairly up, it was worth a lifetime of city
    toiling and moiling to perch in the foretop with the driver and see the
    six mustangs scamper under the sharp snapping of the whip that never
    touched them; to scan the blue distances of a world that knew no lords
    but us; to cleave the wind with uncovered head and feel the sluggish
    pulses rousing to the spirit of a speed that pretended to the resistless
    rush of a typhoon! Then thirteen hundred miles of desert solitudes; of
    limitless panoramas of bewildering perspective; of mimic cities, of
    pinnacled cathedrals, of massive fortresses, counterfeited in the eternal
    rocks and splendid with the crimson and gold of the setting sun; of dizzy
    altitudes among fog-wreathed peaks and never-melting snows, where
    thunders and lightnings and tempests warred magnificently at our feet and
    the storm clouds above swung their shredded banners in our very faces!
    But I forgot. I am in elegant France now, and not scurrying through the
    great South Pass and the Wind River Mountains, among antelopes and
    buffaloes and painted Indians on the warpath. It is not meet that I
    should make too disparaging comparisons between humdrum travel on a
    railway and that royal summer flight across a continent in a stagecoach.
    I meant in the beginning to say that railway journeying is tedious and
    tiresome, and so it is--though at the time I was thinking particularly of
    a dismal fifty-hour pilgrimage between New York and St. Louis. Of course
    our trip through France was not really tedious because all its scenes and
    experiences were new and strange; but as Dan says, it had its

    The cars are built in compartments that hold eight persons each. Each
    compartment is partially subdivided, and so there are two tolerably
    distinct parties of four in it. Four face the other four. The seats and
    backs are thickly padded and cushioned and are very comfortable; you can
    smoke if you wish; there are no bothersome peddlers; you are saved the
    infliction of a multitude of disagreeable fellow passengers. So far, so
    well. But then the conductor locks you in when the train starts; there
    is no water to drink in the car; there is no heating apparatus for night
    travel; if a drunken rowdy should get in, you could not remove a matter
    of twenty seats from him or enter another car; but above all, if you are
    worn out and must sleep, you must sit up and do it in naps, with cramped
    legs and in a torturing misery that leaves you withered and lifeless the
    next day--for behold they have not that culmination of all charity and
    human kindness, a sleeping car, in all France. I prefer the American
    system. It has not so many grievous "discrepancies."

    In France, all is clockwork, all is order. They make no mistakes. Every
    third man wears a uniform, and whether he be a marshal of the empire or a
    brakeman, he is ready and perfectly willing to answer all your questions
    with tireless politeness, ready to tell you which car to take, yea, and
    ready to go and put you into it to make sure that you shall not go
    astray. You cannot pass into the waiting room of the depot till you have
    secured your ticket, and you cannot pass from its only exit till the
    train is at its threshold to receive you. Once on board, the train will
    not start till your ticket has been examined--till every passenger's
    ticket has been inspected. This is chiefly for your own good. If by any
    possibility you have managed to take the wrong train, you will be handed
    over to a polite official who will take you whither you belong and bestow
    you with many an affable bow. Your ticket will be inspected every now
    and then along the route, and when it is time to change cars you will
    know it. You are in the hands of officials who zealously study your
    welfare and your interest, instead of turning their talents to the
    invention of new methods of discommoding and snubbing you, as is very
    often the main employment of that exceedingly self-satisfied monarch, the
    railroad conductor of America.

    But the happiest regulation in French railway government is--thirty
    minutes to dinner! No five-minute boltings of flabby rolls, muddy
    coffee, questionable eggs, gutta-percha beef, and pies whose conception
    and execution are a dark and bloody mystery to all save the cook that
    created them! No, we sat calmly down--it was in old Dijon, which is so
    easy to spell and so impossible to pronounce except when you civilize it
    and call it Demijohn--and poured out rich Burgundian wines and munched
    calmly through a long table d'hote bill of fare, snail patties, delicious
    fruits and all, then paid the trifle it cost and stepped happily aboard
    the train again, without once cursing the railroad company. A rare
    experience and one to be treasured forever.

    They say they do not have accidents on these French roads, and I think it
    must be true. If I remember rightly, we passed high above wagon roads or
    through tunnels under them, but never crossed them on their own level.
    About every quarter of a mile, it seemed to me, a man came out and held
    up a club till the train went by, to signify that everything was safe
    ahead. Switches were changed a mile in advance by pulling a wire rope
    that passed along the ground by the rail, from station to station.
    Signals for the day and signals for the night gave constant and timely
    notice of the position of switches.

    No, they have no railroad accidents to speak of in France. But why?
    Because when one occurs, somebody has to hang for it! Not hang, maybe,
    but be punished at least with such vigor of emphasis as to make
    negligence a thing to be shuddered at by railroad officials for many a
    day thereafter. "No blame attached to the officers"--that lying and
    disaster-breeding verdict so common to our softhearted juries is seldom
    rendered in France. If the trouble occurred in the conductor's
    department, that officer must suffer if his subordinate cannot be proven
    guilty; if in the engineer's department and the case be similar, the
    engineer must answer.

    The Old Travelers--those delightful parrots who have "been here before"
    and know more about the country than Louis Napoleon knows now or ever
    will know--tell us these things, and we believe them because they are
    pleasant things to believe and because they are plausible and savor of
    the rigid subjection to law and order which we behold about us

    But we love the Old Travelers. We love to hear them prate and drivel and
    lie. We can tell them the moment we see them. They always throw out a
    few feelers; they never cast themselves adrift till they have sounded
    every individual and know that he has not traveled. Then they open their
    throttle valves, and how they do brag, and sneer, and swell, and soar,
    and blaspheme the sacred name of Truth! Their central idea, their grand
    aim, is to subjugate you, keep you down, make you feel insignificant and
    humble in the blaze of their cosmopolitan glory! They will not let you
    know anything. They sneer at your most inoffensive suggestions; they
    laugh unfeelingly at your treasured dreams of foreign lands; they brand
    the statements of your traveled aunts and uncles as the stupidest
    absurdities; they deride your most trusted authors and demolish the fair
    images they have set up for your willing worship with the pitiless
    ferocity of the fanatic iconoclast! But still I love the Old Travelers.
    I love them for their witless platitudes, for their supernatural ability
    to bore, for their delightful asinine vanity, for their luxuriant
    fertility of imagination, for their startling, their brilliant, their
    overwhelming mendacity!

    By Lyons and the Saone (where we saw the lady of Lyons and thought little
    of her comeliness), by Villa Franca, Tonnere, venerable Sens, Melun,
    Fontainebleau, and scores of other beautiful cities, we swept, always
    noting the absence of hog-wallows, broken fences, cow lots, unpainted
    houses, and mud, and always noting, as well, the presence of cleanliness,
    grace, taste in adorning and beautifying, even to the disposition of a
    tree or the turning of a hedge, the marvel of roads in perfect repair,
    void of ruts and guiltless of even an inequality of surface--we bowled
    along, hour after hour, that brilliant summer day, and as nightfall
    approached we entered a wilderness of odorous flowers and shrubbery, sped
    through it, and then, excited, delighted, and half persuaded that we were
    only the sport of a beautiful dream, lo, we stood in magnificent Paris!

    What excellent order they kept about that vast depot! There was no
    frantic crowding and jostling, no shouting and swearing, and no
    swaggering intrusion of services by rowdy hackmen. These latter gentry
    stood outside--stood quietly by their long line of vehicles and said
    never a word. A kind of hackman general seemed to have the whole matter
    of transportation in his hands. He politely received the passengers and
    ushered them to the kind of conveyance they wanted, and told the driver
    where to deliver them. There was no "talking back," no dissatisfaction
    about overcharging, no grumbling about anything. In a little while we
    were speeding through the streets of Paris and delightfully recognizing
    certain names and places with which books had long ago made us familiar.
    It was like meeting an old friend when we read Rue de Rivoli on the
    street corner; we knew the genuine vast palace of the Louvre as well as
    we knew its picture; when we passed by the Column of July we needed no
    one to tell us what it was or to remind us that on its site once stood
    the grim Bastille, that grave of human hopes and happiness, that dismal
    prison house within whose dungeons so many young faces put on the
    wrinkles of age, so many proud spirits grew humble, so many brave hearts

    We secured rooms at the hotel, or rather, we had three beds put into one
    room, so that we might be together, and then we went out to a restaurant,
    just after lamplighting, and ate a comfortable, satisfactory, lingering
    dinner. It was a pleasure to eat where everything was so tidy, the food
    so well cooked, the waiters so polite, and the coming and departing
    company so moustached, so frisky, so affable, so fearfully and
    wonderfully Frenchy! All the surroundings were gay and enlivening. Two
    hundred people sat at little tables on the sidewalk, sipping wine and
    coffee; the streets were thronged with light vehicles and with joyous
    pleasure-seekers; there was music in the air, life and action all about
    us, and a conflagration of gaslight everywhere!

    After dinner we felt like seeing such Parisian specialties as we might
    see without distressing exertion, and so we sauntered through the
    brilliant streets and looked at the dainty trifles in variety stores and
    jewelry shops. Occasionally, merely for the pleasure of being cruel, we
    put unoffending Frenchmen on the rack with questions framed in the
    incomprehensible jargon of their native language, and while they writhed
    we impaled them, we peppered them, we scarified them, with their own vile
    verbs and participles.

    We noticed that in the jewelry stores they had some of the articles
    marked "gold" and some labeled "imitation." We wondered at this
    extravagance of honesty and inquired into the matter. We were informed
    that inasmuch as most people are not able to tell false gold from the
    genuine article, the government compels jewelers to have their gold work
    assayed and stamped officially according to its fineness and their
    imitation work duly labeled with the sign of its falsity. They told us
    the jewelers would not dare to violate this law, and that whatever a
    stranger bought in one of their stores might be depended upon as being
    strictly what it was represented to be. Verily, a wonderful land is

    Then we hunted for a barber-shop. From earliest infancy it had been
    a cherished ambition of mine to be shaved some day in a palatial
    barber-shop in Paris. I wished to recline at full length in a cushioned
    invalid chair, with pictures about me and sumptuous furniture; with
    frescoed walls and gilded arches above me and vistas of Corinthian
    columns stretching far before me; with perfumes of Araby to intoxicate
    my senses and the slumbrous drone of distant noises to soothe me to
    sleep. At the end of an hour I would wake up regretfully and find my
    face as smooth and as soft as an infant's. Departing, I would lift my
    hands above that barber's head and say, "Heaven bless you, my son!"

    So we searched high and low, for a matter of two hours, but never a
    barber-shop could we see. We saw only wig-making establishments, with
    shocks of dead and repulsive hair bound upon the heads of painted waxen
    brigands who stared out from glass boxes upon the passer-by with their
    stony eyes and scared him with the ghostly white of their countenances.
    We shunned these signs for a time, but finally we concluded that the
    wig-makers must of necessity be the barbers as well, since we could find
    no single legitimate representative of the fraternity. We entered and
    asked, and found that it was even so.

    I said I wanted to be shaved. The barber inquired where my room was. I
    said never mind where my room was, I wanted to be shaved--there, on the
    spot. The doctor said he would be shaved also. Then there was an
    excitement among those two barbers! There was a wild consultation, and
    afterwards a hurrying to and fro and a feverish gathering up of razors
    from obscure places and a ransacking for soap. Next they took us into a
    little mean, shabby back room; they got two ordinary sitting-room chairs
    and placed us in them with our coats on. My old, old dream of bliss
    vanished into thin air!

    I sat bolt upright, silent, sad, and solemn. One of the wig-making
    villains lathered my face for ten terrible minutes and finished by
    plastering a mass of suds into my mouth. I expelled the nasty stuff with
    a strong English expletive and said, "Foreigner, beware!" Then this
    outlaw strapped his razor on his boot, hovered over me ominously for six
    fearful seconds, and then swooped down upon me like the genius of
    destruction. The first rake of his razor loosened the very hide from my
    face and lifted me out of the chair. I stormed and raved, and the other
    boys enjoyed it. Their beards are not strong and thick. Let us draw the
    curtain over this harrowing scene.

    Suffice it that I submitted and went through with the cruel infliction of
    a shave by a French barber; tears of exquisite agony coursed down my
    cheeks now and then, but I survived. Then the incipient assassin held a
    basin of water under my chin and slopped its contents over my face, and
    into my bosom, and down the back of my neck, with a mean pretense of
    washing away the soap and blood. He dried my features with a towel and
    was going to comb my hair, but I asked to be excused. I said, with
    withering irony, that it was sufficient to be skinned--I declined to be

    I went away from there with my handkerchief about my face, and never,
    never, never desired to dream of palatial Parisian barber-shops anymore.
    The truth is, as I believe I have since found out, that they have no
    barber shops worthy of the name in Paris--and no barbers, either, for
    that matter. The impostor who does duty as a barber brings his pans and
    napkins and implements of torture to your residence and deliberately
    skins you in your private apartments. Ah, I have suffered, suffered,
    suffered, here in Paris, but never mind--the time is coming when I shall
    have a dark and bloody revenge. Someday a Parisian barber will come to
    my room to skin me, and from that day forth that barber will never be
    heard of more.

    At eleven o'clock we alighted upon a sign which manifestly referred to
    billiards. Joy! We had played billiards in the Azores with balls that
    were not round and on an ancient table that was very little smoother than
    a brick pavement--one of those wretched old things with dead cushions,
    and with patches in the faded cloth and invisible obstructions that made
    the balls describe the most astonishing and unsuspected angles and
    perform feats in the way of unlooked-for and almost impossible
    "scratches" that were perfectly bewildering. We had played at Gibraltar
    with balls the size of a walnut, on a table like a public square--and in
    both instances we achieved far more aggravation than amusement. We
    expected to fare better here, but we were mistaken. The cushions were a
    good deal higher than the balls, and as the balls had a fashion of always
    stopping under the cushions, we accomplished very little in the way of
    caroms. The cushions were hard and unelastic, and the cues were so
    crooked that in making a shot you had to allow for the curve or you would
    infallibly put the "English" on the wrong side of the hall. Dan was to
    mark while the doctor and I played. At the end of an hour neither of us
    had made a count, and so Dan was tired of keeping tally with nothing to
    tally, and we were heated and angry and disgusted. We paid the heavy
    bill--about six cents--and said we would call around sometime when we had
    a week to spend, and finish the game.

    We adjourned to one of those pretty cafes and took supper and tested the
    wines of the country, as we had been instructed to do, and found them
    harmless and unexciting. They might have been exciting, however, if we
    had chosen to drink a sufficiency of them.

    To close our first day in Paris cheerfully and pleasantly, we now sought
    our grand room in the Grand Hotel du Louvre and climbed into our
    sumptuous bed to read and smoke--but alas!

    It was pitiful,
    In a whole city-full,
    Gas we had none.

    No gas to read by--nothing but dismal candles. It was a shame. We tried
    to map out excursions for the morrow; we puzzled over French "guides to
    Paris"; we talked disjointedly in a vain endeavor to make head or tail of
    the wild chaos of the day's sights and experiences; we subsided to
    indolent smoking; we gaped and yawned and stretched--then feebly wondered
    if we were really and truly in renowned Paris, and drifted drowsily away
    into that vast mysterious void which men call sleep.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 13
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Mark Twain essay and need some advice, post your Mark Twain essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?