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- The Potiphar Papers - 20/24 -
down the harbor on our way to Europe, and talking of the circumstance of the state-rooms, "it is so odd, that in Sennaar, where to be sure, civilization has scarcely a foothold--I mean such civilization as you enjoy--this proceeding would have been called dishonest! They do have the oddest use of terms in Sennaar! Why, I remember that I once bought a sheep, and as it was coming to my fold in charge of my shepherd, a man in a mask came out of a wood and walked away with the sheep, and appropriated the mutton-chops to his own family uses. And those singular people in Sennaar called it stealing. Shall I ever get through laughing at them when I return! There ought to be missionaries sent to Sennaar. Do you think the Rev. Cream Cheese would go? How gracefully he would say: 'Benighted brethren, in my country when a man buys a sheep or a state-room, and pays money for it, and another man appropriates it, depriving the rightful buyer of his chops and sheep, what does the buyer do? Does he swear? Does he rail? Does he complain? Does he even ask for the cold pickings? Not at all, brethren; he does none of these things. He sends Worcestershire sauce to the thief, or a pillow of poppies, and says to him, Friend, all of mine is thine, and all of thine is thine own. This, benighted people of Sennaar, is the practice of a Christian people. As one of our great poets says, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' Think how delicately the Rev. Cream would pat his mouth with the fine cambric handkerchief, after rounding off such a homily! He might ask you and Mrs. Potiphar to accompany him as examples of this Christian pitch of self-sacrifice. On the whole, I wouldn't advise you to go. The rude races of Sennaar, might put that beautiful forgiveness of yours to extraordinary proofs. Holloa! there's a sea!"
We were dismally sea-sick. And I cared for nothing but arriving. Oh! dear, I think I would even have given up Paris, at least I thought so. But, oh! how _could_ I think so! Just fancy a place where not only your own maid speaks French, but where everybody, the porters, the coachmen, the chambermaids, can't speak anything else! Where the very beggars beg, and the commonest people swear, in French! Oh! it's inexpressibly delightful. Why, the dogs understand it, and the horses--"everybody," as Kurz Pacha said to me, the morning after our arrival (for he insisted upon coming, "it was such a freak," he said,) "everybody rolls in a luxury of French, and, according to the boarding-school standard, is happy."
Everybody--but poor Mr. Potiphar!
He has a terrible time of it.
When we arrived we alighted at Meurice's,--all the fashionable people do; at least Gauche Boosey said Lord Brougham did, for he used to read it in Galignani and I suppose it is fashionable to do as Lord Brougham does. D'Orsay Firkin said that the Hotel Bristol was more _récherché_.
"Does that mean cheaper?" inquired Mr. Potiphar.
Mr. Firkin looked at him compassionately.
"I only want," said Mr. Potiphar, in a kind of gasping way, for it was in the cars on the way from Boulogne to Paris that we held this consultation--"I only want to go where there is somebody who can speak English."
"My dear sir, there are Commissionaires at all the hotels who are perfect linguists," said Mr. Firkin in a gentlemanly manner.
"Oh! dear me!" said Mr. P. wiping his forehead with the red bandanna that he always carries, despite Mrs. P., "what is a commissionaire?"
"An interpreter, a cicerone," said Mr. Firkin.
"A guide, philosopher, and friend," said Kurz Pacha.
"Kurz Pacha, do you speak French?" inquired Mr. P. nervously, as we rolled along.
"Oh! yes," replied he.
"Oh! dear me!" said Mr. Potiphar, looking disconsolately out of the window.
We arrived soon after.
"We are now at the _Barrière_" said Mr. Firkin.
"What do we do there?" asked Mr. Potiphar.
"We are inspected," said Mr. Firkin.
Mr. Potiphar drew himself up with a military air.
We alighted and walked into the room where all the baggage was arranged.
"_Est-ce qu'il y a quelque chose à déclarer?_" asked an officer, addressing Mr. Potiphar.
"Good heavens! what did you say?" said Mr. P., looking at him.
The officer smiled, and Kurz Pacha said something, upon which he bowed and passed on. We stepped outside upon the pavement, and I confess that even I could not understand everything that was said by the crowd and the coachmen. But Kurz Pacha led the way to a carriage, and we drove off to Meurice's.
"It's awful, isn't it?" said Mr. Potiphar, panting.
When we reached the hotel, a gentleman (Mr. Potiphar said he was sure he was a gentleman, from a remark he made--in English) came bowing out. But before the door of the carriage was opened, Mr. P. thrust his head out of the window, and holding the door shut, cried out, "Do you speak English here?"
"Certainly, sir," replied the clerk; and that was the remark that so pleased Mr. Potiphar.
My room was next to the Potiphars, and I heard a great deal, you may be sure. I didn't mean to, but I couldn't help it. The next morning, when they were about coming down, I heard Polly say--
"Now, Mr. Potiphar, remember, if you want to speak of your room it is _numero quatre-vingt cinq_" and she pronounced it very slowly. "Now try, Mr. P."
"Oh! dear me. Kattery vang sank," said he.
"Very good," answered she; "_au troisième_; that means, on the third floor. Now try."
"O tror--Otrorsy--O trorsy--Oh! dear me!" muttered he in a tone of despair.
"_ème_," said Mrs. P.
"Aim," said he.
"Well?" said Mrs. P.
"O trorsyaim," said he.
"That's very well, indeed!" said Mrs. Potiphar, and they went out of the room. I joined them in the hall, and we ran on before Mr. P., but we soon heard some one speaking, and stopped.
"_Monsieur, veut il prendre un commissionaire?_"
"Kattery--vang--sank," replied Mr. Potiphar, with great emphasis.
"_Comment?_" said the other.
"O tror--O tror--Oh! Polly--seeaim--seeaim!" returned Mr. P.
"You speak English," said the commissionaire.
"Why! good God! do _you?_" asked Mr. P., with astonishment.
"I speaks every languages, sare," replied the other, "and we will use the English, if you please. But Monsieur speaks _très bien_ the French language."
"Are you speaking English now?" asked Mr. Potiphar.
The commissionaire answered him that he was,--and Mr. P. thrust his arm through that of the commissionaire and said--
"My dear sir, if you are disengaged I should be very glad if you would accompany me in my walks through the town."
"Mr. Potiphar!" said Polly, "come!"
"Coming, my dear," answered he, as he approached with the commissionaire. It was in vain that Mrs. P. winked and frowned. Her husband would not take hints. So taking his other arm, and wishing the commissionaire good morning, she tried to draw him away. But he clung to his companion and said,
"Polly, this gentleman speaks English."
"Don't keep his arm," whispered she; "he is only a servant."
"Servant, indeed!" said he; "you should have heard him speak French, and you see how gentlemanly he is."
It was some time before Polly was able to make her husband comprehend the case.
"Ah!" said he, at length; "Oh! I understand."
All our first days were full of such little mistakes. Kurz Pacha come regularly to see us, and laughed more than I ever saw him laugh before. The young men were away a great deal, which was hardly kind. But they said they must call upon their old acquaintances; and Polly and I expected every day to be called upon by their lady friends.
"It's very odd that the friends of these young men don't call upon us," said Mrs. Potiphar to Kurz Pacha; "it would be only civil."
The Ambassador laughed a good deal to himself and then answered,
"But they are not visiting ladies."
"What do you mean," said she.
"Ask Mr. Firkin," replied he.
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