The next morning we were up and dressed at ten o’clock. We went to the ‘commissionaire’ of the hotel — I don’t know what a ‘commissionaire’ is, but that is the man we went to — and told him we wanted a guide. He said the national Exposition had drawn such multitudes of Englishmen and Americans to Paris that it would be next to impossible to find a good guide unemployed. He said he usually kept a dozen or two on hand, but he only had three now.
He called them. One looked so like a very pirate that we let him go at once. The next one spoke with a simpering precision of pronunciation that was irritating and said:
“If ze zhentlemans will to me make ze grande honneur to me rattain in hees serveece, I shall show to him every sing zat is magnifique to look upon in ze beautiful Parree. I speaky ze Angleesh pairfaitemaw.”
He would have done well to have stopped there, because he had that much by heart and said it right off without making a mistake. But his self-complacency seduced him into attempting a flight into regions of unexplored English, and the reckless experiment was his ruin. Within ten seconds he was so tangled up in a maze of mutilated verbs and torn and bleeding forms of speech that no human ingenuity could ever have gotten him out of it with credit. It was plain enough that he could not “speaky” the English quite as “pairfaitemaw” as he had pretended he could.
The third man captured us. He was plainly dressed, but he had a noticeable air of neatness about him. He wore a high silk hat which was a little old, but had been carefully brushed. He wore second-hand kid gloves, in good repair, and carried a small rattan cane with a curved handle — a female leg — of ivory. He stepped as gently and as daintily as a cat crossing a muddy street; and oh, he was urbanity; he was quiet, unobtrusive self-possession; he was deference itself! He spoke softly and guardedly; and when he was about to make a statement on his sole responsibility or offer a suggestion, he weighed it by drachms and scruples first, with the crook of his little stick placed meditatively to his teeth. His opening speech was perfect. It was perfect in construction, in phraseology, in grammar, in emphasis, in pronunciation — everything. He spoke little and guardedly after that. We were charmed. We were more than charmed — we were overjoyed. We hired him at once. We never even asked him his price. This man — our lackey, our servant, our unquestioning slave though he was — was still a gentleman — we could see that — while of the other two one was coarse and awkward and the other was a born pirate. We asked our man Friday’s name. He drew from his pocketbook a snowy little card and passed it to us with a profound bow:
Guide to Paris, France, Germany,
Spain, etc., etc.
Grande Hotel du Louvre.
“Billfinger! Oh, carry me home to die!”
That was an “aside” from Dan. The atrocious name grated harshly on my ear, too. The most of us can learn to forgive, and even to like, a countenance that strikes us unpleasantly at first, but few of us, I fancy, become reconciled to a jarring name so easily. I was almost sorry we had hired this man, his name was so unbearable. However, no matter. We were impatient to start. Billfinger stepped to the door to call a carriage, and then the doctor said:
“Well, the guide goes with the barbershop, with the billiard-table, with the gasless room, and may be with many another pretty romance of Paris. I expected to have a guide named Henri de Montmorency, or Armand de la Chartreuse, or something that would sound grand in letters to the villagers at home, but to think of a Frenchman by the name of Billfinger! Oh! This is absurd, you know. This will never do. We can’t say Billfinger; it is nauseating. Name him over again; what had we better call him? Alexis du Caulaincourt?”
“Alphonse Henri Gustave de Hauteville,” I suggested.
“Call him Ferguson,” said Dan.
That was practical, unromantic good sense. Without debate, we expunged Billfinger as Billfinger, and called him Ferguson.
The carriage — an open barouche — was ready. Ferguson mounted beside the driver, and we whirled away to breakfast. As was proper, Mr. Ferguson stood by to transmit our orders and answer questions. By and by, he mentioned casually — the artful adventurer — that he would go and get his breakfast as soon as we had finished ours. He knew we could not get along without him and that we would not want to loiter about and wait for him. We asked him to sit down and eat with us. He begged, with many a bow, to be excused. It was not proper, he said; he would sit at another table. We ordered him peremptorily to sit down with us.
Here endeth the first lesson. It was a mistake.
As long as we had that fellow after that, he was always hungry; he was always thirsty. He came early; he stayed late; he could not pass a restaurant; he looked with a lecherous eye upon every wine shop. Suggestions to stop, excuses to eat and to drink, were forever on his lips. We tried all we could to fill him so full that he would have no room to spare for a fortnight, but it was a failure. He did not hold enough to smother the cravings of his superhuman appetite.
He had another “discrepancy” about him. He was always wanting us to buy things. On the shallowest pretenses he would inveigle us into shirt stores, boot stores, tailor shops, glove shops — anywhere under the broad sweep of the heavens that there seemed a chance of our buying anything. Anyone could have guessed that the shopkeepers paid him a percentage on the sales, but in our blessed innocence we didn’t until this feature of his conduct grew unbearably prominent. One day Dan happened to mention that he thought of buying three or four silk dress patterns for presents. Ferguson’s hungry eye was upon him in an instant. In the course of twenty minutes the carriage stopped.
“Zis is ze finest silk magazin in Paris — ze most celebrate.”
“What did you come here for? We told you to take us to the palace of the Louvre.”
“I suppose ze gentleman say he wish to buy some silk.”
“You are not required to ‘suppose’ things for the party, Ferguson. We do not wish to tax your energies too much. We will bear some of the burden and heat of the day ourselves. We will endeavor to do such ‘supposing’ as is really necessary to be done. Drive on.” So spake the doctor.
Within fifteen minutes the carriage halted again, and before another silk store. The doctor said:
“Ah, the palace of the Louvre — beautiful, beautiful edifice! Does the Emperor Napoleon live here now, Ferguson?”
“Ah, Doctor! You do jest; zis is not ze palace; we come there directly. But since we pass right by zis store, where is such beautiful silk — ”
“Ah! I see, I see. I meant to have told you that we did not wish to purchase any silks to-day, but in my absent-mindedness I forgot it. I also meant to tell you we wished to go directly to the Louvre, but I forgot that also. However, we will go there now. Pardon my seeming carelessness, Ferguson. Drive on.”
Within the half hour we stopped again — in front of another silk store. We were angry; but the doctor was always serene, always smooth-voiced. He said:
“At last! How imposing the Louvre is, and yet how small! How exquisitely fashioned! How charmingly situated! — Venerable, venerable pile — ”
“Pairdon, Doctor, zis is not ze Louvre — it is — ”
“What is it?”
“I have ze idea — it come to me in a moment — zat ze silk in zis magazin — ”
“Ferguson, how heedless I am. I fully intended to tell you that we did not wish to buy any silks to-day, and I also intended to tell you that we yearned to go immediately to the palace of the Louvre, but enjoying the happiness of seeing you devour four breakfasts this morning has so filled me with pleasurable emotions that I neglect the commonest interests of the time. However, we will proceed now to the Louvre, Ferguson.”
“But, doctor,” (excitedly,) “it will take not a minute — not but one small minute! Ze gentleman need not to buy if he not wish to — but only look at ze silk — look at ze beautiful fabric. [Then pleadingly.] Sair — just only one leetle moment!”
Dan said, “Confound the idiot! I don’t want to see any silks today, and I won’t look at them. Drive on.”
And the doctor: “We need no silks now, Ferguson. Our hearts yearn for the Louvre. Let us journey on — let us journey on.”
“But doctor! It is only one moment — one leetle moment. And ze time will be save — entirely save! Because zere is nothing to see now — it is too late. It want ten minute to four and ze Louvre close at four — only one leetle moment, Doctor!”
The treacherous miscreant! After four breakfasts and a gallon of champagne, to serve us such a scurvy trick. We got no sight of the countless treasures of art in the Louvre galleries that day, and our only poor little satisfaction was in the reflection that Ferguson sold not a solitary silk dress pattern.
I am writing this chapter partly for the satisfaction of abusing that accomplished knave Billfinger, and partly to show whosoever shall read this how Americans fare at the hands of the Paris guides and what sort of people Paris guides are. It need not be supposed that we were a stupider or an easier prey than our countrymen generally are, for we were not. The guides deceive and defraud every American who goes to Paris for the first time and sees its sights alone or in company with others as little experienced as himself. I shall visit Paris again someday, and then let the guides beware! I shall go in my war paint — I shall carry my tomahawk along.
I think we have lost but little time in Paris. We have gone to bed every night tired out. Of course we visited the renowned International Exposition. All the world did that. We went there on our third day in Paris — and we stayed there nearly two hours. That was our first and last visit. To tell the truth, we saw at a glance that one would have to spend weeks — yea, even months — in that monstrous establishment to get an intelligible idea of it. It was a wonderful show, but the moving masses of people of all nations we saw there were a still more wonderful show. I discovered that if I were to stay there a month, I should still find myself looking at the people instead of the inanimate objects on exhibition. I got a little interested in some curious old tapestries of the thirteenth century, but a party of Arabs came by, and their dusky faces and quaint costumes called my attention away at once. I watched a silver swan, which had a living grace about his movements and a living intelligence in his eyes — watched him swimming about as comfortably and as unconcernedly as if he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweler’s shop — watched him seize a silver fish from under the water and hold up his head and go through all the customary and elaborate motions of swallowing it — but the moment it disappeared down his throat some tattooed South Sea Islanders approached and I yielded to their attractions.
Presently I found a revolving pistol several hundred years old which looked strangely like a modern Colt, but just then I heard that the Empress of the French was in another part of the building, and hastened away to see what she might look like. We heard martial music — we saw an unusual number of soldiers walking hurriedly about — there was a general movement among the people. We inquired what it was all about and learned that the Emperor of the French and the Sultan of Turkey were about to review twenty-five thousand troops at the Arc de l’Etoile. We immediately departed. I had a greater anxiety to see these men than I could have had to see twenty expositions.
We drove away and took up a position in an open space opposite the American minister’s house. A speculator bridged a couple of barrels with a board and we hired standing places on it. Presently there was a sound of distant music; in another minute a pillar of dust came moving slowly toward us; a moment more and then, with colors flying and a grand crash of military music, a gallant array of cavalrymen emerged from the dust and came down the street on a gentle trot. After them came a long line of artillery; then more cavalry, in splendid uniforms; and then their imperial majesties Napoleon III and Abdul Aziz. The vast concourse of people swung their hats and shouted — the windows and housetops in the wide vicinity burst into a snowstorm of waving handkerchiefs, and the wavers of the same mingled their cheers with those of the masses below. It was a stirring spectacle.
But the two central figures claimed all my attention. Was ever such a contrast set up before a multitude till then?
Napoleon in military uniform — a long-bodied, short-legged man, fiercely moustached, old, wrinkled, with eyes half closed, and such a deep, crafty, scheming expression about them! — Napoleon, bowing ever so gently to the loud plaudits, and watching everything and everybody with his cat eyes from under his depressed hat brim, as if to discover any sign that those cheers were not heartfelt and cordial.
Abdul Aziz, absolute lord of the Ottoman empire — clad in dark green European clothes, almost without ornament or insignia of rank; a red Turkish fez on his head; a short, stout, dark man, black-bearded, black-eyed, stupid, unprepossessing — a man whose whole appearance somehow suggested that if he only had a cleaver in his hand and a white apron on, one would not be at all surprised to hear him say: “A mutton roast today, or will you have a nice porterhouse steak?”
Napoleon III, the representative of the highest modern civilization, progress, and refinement; Abdul-Aziz, the representative of a people by nature and training filthy, brutish, ignorant, unprogressive, superstitious — and a government whose Three Graces are Tyranny, Rapacity, Blood. Here in brilliant Paris, under this majestic Arch of Triumph, the First Century greets the Nineteenth!
NAPOLEON III., Emperor of France! Surrounded by shouting thousands, by military pomp, by the splendors of his capital city, and companioned by kings and princes — this is the man who was sneered at and reviled and called Bastard — yet who was dreaming of a crown and an empire all the while; who was driven into exile — but carried his dreams with him; who associated with the common herd in America and ran foot races for a wager — but still sat upon a throne in fancy; who braved every danger to go to his dying mother — and grieved that she could not be spared to see him cast aside his plebeian vestments for the purple of royalty; who kept his faithful watch and walked his weary beat a common policeman of London — but dreamed the while of a coming night when he should tread the long-drawn corridors of the Tuileries; who made the miserable fiasco of Strasbourg; saw his poor, shabby eagle, forgetful of its lesson, refuse to perch upon his shoulder; delivered his carefully prepared, sententious burst of eloquence upon unsympathetic ears; found himself a prisoner, the butt of small wits, a mark for the pitiless ridicule of all the world — yet went on dreaming of coronations and splendid pageants as before; who lay a forgotten captive in the dungeons of Ham — and still schemed and planned and pondered over future glory and future power; President of France at last! a coup d’etat, and surrounded by applauding armies, welcomed by the thunders of cannon, he mounts a throne and waves before an astounded world the sceptre of a mighty empire! Who talks of the marvels of fiction? Who speaks of the wonders of romance? Who prates of the tame achievements of Aladdin and the Magii of Arabia?
ABDUL-AZIZ, Sultan of Turkey, Lord of the Ottoman Empire! Born to a throne; weak, stupid, ignorant, almost, as his meanest slave; chief of a vast royalty, yet the puppet of his Premier and the obedient child of a tyrannical mother; a man who sits upon a throne — the beck of whose finger moves navies and armies — who holds in his hands the power of life and death over millions — yet who sleeps, sleeps, eats, eats, idles with his eight hundred concubines, and when he is surfeited with eating and sleeping and idling, and would rouse up and take the reins of government and threaten to be a sultan, is charmed from his purpose by wary Fuad Pacha with a pretty plan for a new palace or a new ship — charmed away with a new toy, like any other restless child; a man who sees his people robbed and oppressed by soulless tax-gatherers, but speaks no word to save them; who believes in gnomes and genii and the wild fables of The Arabian Nights, but has small regard for the mighty magicians of to-day, and is nervous in the presence of their mysterious railroads and steamboats and telegraphs; who would see undone in Egypt all that great Mehemet Ali achieved, and would prefer rather to forget than emulate him; a man who found his great empire a blot upon the earth — a degraded, poverty-stricken, miserable, infamous agglomeration of ignorance, crime, and brutality — and will idle away the allotted days of his trivial life and then pass to the dust and the worms and leave it so!
Napoleon has augmented the commercial prosperity of France in ten years to such a degree that figures can hardly compute it. He has rebuilt Paris and has partly rebuilt every city in the state. He condemns a whole street at a time, assesses the damages, pays them, and rebuilds superbly. Then speculators buy up the ground and sell, but the original owner is given the first choice by the government at a stated price before the speculator is permitted to purchase. But above all things, he has taken the sole control of the empire of France into his hands and made it a tolerably free land — for people who will not attempt to go too far in meddling with government affairs. No country offers greater security to life and property than France, and one has all the freedom he wants, but no license — no license to interfere with anybody or make anyone uncomfortable.
As for the Sultan, one could set a trap any where and catch a dozen abler men in a night.
The bands struck up, and the brilliant adventurer, Napoleon III., the genius of Energy, Persistence, Enterprise; and the feeble Abdul-Aziz, the genius of Ignorance, Bigotry, and Indolence, prepared for the Forward — March!
We saw the splendid review, we saw the white-moustached old Crimean soldier, Canrobert, Marshal of France, we saw — well, we saw every thing, and then we went home satisfied.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00