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- Europe Revised - 5/47 -
personally had learned, among other things, that the Atlantic Ocean, considered as such, is a considerably overrated body. Having been across it, even on so big and fine and well-ordered a ship as this ship was, the ocean, it seemed to me, was not at all what it had been cracked up to be.
During the first day out it is a novelty and after that a monotony--except when it is rough; and then it is a doggoned nuisance. Poets without end have written of the sea, but I take it they stayed at home to do their writing. They were not on the bounding billow when they praised it; if they had been they might have decorated the billow, but they would never have praised it.
As the old song so happily put it: My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean! And a lot of others have lied over it too; but I will not--at least not just yet. Perhaps later on I may feel moved to do so; but at this moment I am but newly landed from it and my heart is full of rankling resentment toward the ocean and all its works.
I speak but a sober conviction when I say that the chief advantage to be derived from taking an ocean voyage is not that you took it, but that you have it to talk about afterward. And, to my mind, the most inspiring sight to bewitnessed on a trip across the Atlantic is the Battery--viewed from the ocean side, coming back.
Do I hear any seconds to that motion?
Bathing Oneself on the Other Side
My first experience with the bathing habits of the native Aryan stocks of Europe came to pass on the morning after the night of our arrival in London.
London disappointed me in one regard--when I opened my eyes that morning there was no fog. There was not the slightest sign of a fog. I had expected that my room would be full of fog of about the consistency of Scotch stage dialect--soupy, you know, and thick and bewildering. I had expected that servants with lighted tapers in their hands would be groping their way through corridors like caves, and that from the street without, would come the hoarse-voiced cries of cabmen lost in the enshrouding gray. You remember Dickens always had them hoarse-voiced.
This was what I confidently expected. Such, however, was not to be. I woke to a consciousness that the place was flooded with indubitable and undoubted sunshine. To be sure, it was not the sharp, hard sunshine we have in America, which scours and bleaches all it touches, until the whole world has the look of having just been clear-starched and hot-ironed. It was a softened, smoke-edged, pastel-shaded sunshine; nevertheless it was plainly recognizable as the genuine article.
Nor was your London shadow the sharply outlined companion in black who accompanies you when the weather is fine in America. Your shadow in London was rather a dim and wavery gentleman who caught up with you as you turned out of the shaded by-street; who went with you a distance and then shyly vanished, but was good company while he stayed, being restful, as your well-bred Englishman nearly always is, and not overly aggressive.
There was no fog that first morning, or the next morning, or any morning of the twenty-odd we spent in England. Often the weather was cloudy, and occasionally it was rainy; and then London would be drenched in that wonderful gray color which makes it, scenically speaking, one of the most fascinating spots on earth; but it was never downright foggy and never downright cold. English friends used to speak to me about it. They apologized for good weather at that season of the year, just as natives of a Florida winter resort will apologize for bad.
"You know, old dear," they would say, "this is most unusual--most stroidinary, in fact. It ought to be raw and nasty and foggy at this time of the year, and here the cursed weather is perfectly fine--blast it!" You could tell they were grieved about it, and disappointed too. Anything that is not regular upsets Englishmen frightfully. Maybe that is why they enforce their laws so rigidly and obey them so beautifully.
Anyway I woke to find the fog absent, and I rose and prepared to take my customary cold bath. I am much given to taking a cold bath in the morning and speaking of it afterward. People who take a cold bath every day always like to brag about it, whether they take it or not.
The bathroom adjoined the bedroom, but did not directly connect with it, being reached by means of a small semi-private hallway. It was a fine, noble bathroom, white tiled and spotless; and one side of it was occupied by the longest, narrowest bathtub I ever saw. Apparently English bathtubs are constructed on the principle that every Englishman who bathes is nine feet long and about eighteen inches wide, whereas the approximate contrary is frequently the case. Draped over a chair was the biggest, widest, softest bathtowel ever made. Shem, Ham and Japhet could have dried themselves on that bathtowel, and there would still have been enough dry territory left for some of the animals--not the large, woolly animals like the Siberian yak, but the small, slick, porous animals such as the armadillo and the Mexican hairless dog.
So I wedged myself into the tub and had a snug-fitting but most luxurious bath; and when I got back to my room the maid had arrived with the shaving water. There was a knock at the door, and when I opened it there stood a maid with a lukewarm pint of water in a long-waisted, thin-lipped pewter pitcher. There was plenty of hot water to be had in the bathroom, with faucets and sinks all handy and convenient, and a person might shave himself there in absolute comfort; but long before the days of pipes and taps an Englishman got his shaving water in a pewter ewer, and he still gets it so. It is one of the things guaranteed him under Magna Charta and he demands it as a right; but I, being but a benighted foreigner, left mine in the pitcher, and that evening the maid checked me up.
"You didn't use the shaving water I brought you to-day, sir!" she said. "It was still in the jug when I came in to tidy up, sir."
Her tone was grieved; so, after that, to spare her feelings, I used to pour it down the sink. But if I were doing the trip over again I would drink it for breakfast instead of the coffee the waiter brought me--the shaving water being warmish and containing, so far as I could tell, no deleterious substances. And if the bathroom were occupied at the time I would shave myself with the coffee. I judge it might work up into a thick and durable lather. It is certainly not adapted for drinking purposes.
The English, as a race, excel at making tea and at drinking it after it is made; but among them coffee is still a mysterious and murky compound full of strange by-products. By first weakening it and wearing it down with warm milk one may imbibe it; but it is not to be reckoned among the pleasures of life. It is a solemn and a painful duty.
On the second morning I was splashing in my tub, gratifying that amphibious instinct which has come down to us from the dim evolutionary time when we were paleozoic polliwogs, when I made the discovery that there were no towels in the bathroom. I glanced about keenly, seeking for help and guidance in such an emergency. Set in the wall directly above the rim of the tub was a brass plate containing two pushbuttons. One button, the uppermost one, was labeled Waiter--the other was labeled Maid.
This was disconcerting. Even in so short a stay under the roof of an English hotel I had learned that at this hour the waiter would be hastening from room to room, ministering to Englishmen engaged in gumming their vital organs into an impenetrable mass with the national dish of marmalade; and that the maid would also be busy carrying shaving water to people who did not need it. Besides, of all the classes I distinctly do not require when I am bathing, one is waiters and the other is maids. For some minutes I considered the situation, without making any headway toward a suitable solution of it; meantime I was getting chilled. So I dried myself--sketchily--with a toothbrush and the edge of the window-shade; then I dressed, and in a still somewhat moist state I went down to interview the management about it. I first visited the information desk and told the youth in charge there I wished to converse with some one in authority on the subject of towels. After gazing at me a spell in a puzzled manner he directed me to go across the lobby to the cashier's department. Here I found a gentleman of truly regal aspect. His tie was a perfect dream of a tie, and he wore a frock coat so slim and long and black it made him look as though he were climbing out of a smokestack. Presenting the case as though it were a supposititious one purely, I said to him:
"Presuming now that one of your guests is in a bathtub and finds he has forgotten to lay in any towels beforehand--such a thing might possibly occur, you know--how does he go about summoning the man-servant or the valet with a view to getting some?"
"Oh, sir," he replied, "that's very simple. You noticed two pushbuttons in your bathroom, didn't you?"
"I did," I said, "and that's just the difficulty. One of them is for the maid and the other is for the waiter."
"Quite so, sir," he said, "quite so. Very well, then, sir: You ring for the waiter or the maid--or, if you should charnce to be in a hurry, for both of them; because, you see, one of them might charnce to be en--"
"One moment," I said. "Let me make my position clear in this matter: This Lady Susanna--I do not know her last name, but you will doubtless recall the person I mean, because I saw several pictures of her yesterday in your national art gallery--this Lady Susanna may have enjoyed taking a bath with a lot of snoopy old elders lurking round in the background; but I am not so constituted. I was raised differently from that. With me, bathing has ever been a solitary pleasure. This may denote selfishness on my part; but such is my nature and I cannot alter it. All my folks feel about it as I do. We are a very peculiar family that way. When bathing we do not invite an audience. Nor do I want one. A crowd would only embarrass me. I merely desire a little privacy and, here and there, a towel."
"Ah, yes! Quite so, sir," he said; "but you do not understand me.
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