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Three Men on the Bummel

by Jerome K. Jerome

previous: CHAPTER XI


We are grieved at the earthly instincts of the German - A superb view, but no restaurant - Continental opinion of the Englishman-That he does not know enough to come in out of the rain - There comes a weary traveller with a brick - The hurting of the dog - An undesirable family residence - A fruitful region - A merry old soul comes up the hill - George, alarmed at the lateness of the hour, hastens down the other side - Harris follows him, to show him the way - I hate being alone, and follow Harris - Pronunciation specially designed for use of foreigners.

A thing that vexes much the high-class Anglo-Saxon soul is the earthly instinct prompting the German to fix a restaurant at the goal of every excursion. On mountain summit, in fairy glen, on lonely pass, by waterfall or winding stream, stands ever the busy Wirtschaft. How can one rhapsodise over a view when surrounded by beer-stained tables? How lose one's self in historical reverie amid the odour of roast veal and spinach?

One day, on elevating thoughts intent, we climbed through tangled woods.

"And at the top," said Harris, bitterly, as we paused to breathe a space and pull our belts a hole tighter, "there will be a gaudy restaurant, where people will be guzzling beefsteaks and plum tarts and drinking white wine."

"Do you think so?" said George.

"Sure to be," answered Harris; "you know their way. Not one grove will they consent to dedicate to solitude and contemplation; not one height will they leave to the lover of nature unpolluted by the gross and the material."

"I calculate," I remarked, "that we shall be there a little before one o'clock, provided we don't dawdle."

"The 'mittagstisch' will be just ready," groaned Harris, "with possibly some of those little blue trout they catch about here. In Germany one never seems able to get away from food and drink. It is maddening!"

We pushed on, and in the beauty of the walk forgot our indignation. My estimate proved to be correct.

At a quarter to one, said Harris, who was leading:

"Here we are; I can see the summit."

"Any sign of that restaurant?" said George.

"I don't notice it," replied Harris; "but it's there, you may be sure; confound it!"

Five minutes later we stood upon the top. We looked north, south, east and west; then we looked at one another.

"Grand view, isn't it?" said Harris.

"Magnificent," I agreed.

"Superb," remarked George.

"They have had the good sense for once," said Harris, "to put that restaurant out of sight."

"They do seem to have hidden it," said George. "One doesn't mind the thing so much when it is not forced under one's nose," said Harris.

"Of course, in its place," I observed, "a restaurant is right enough."

"I should like to know where they have put it," said George.

"Suppose we look for it?" said Harris, with inspiration.

It seemed a good idea. I felt curious myself. We agreed to explore in different directions, returning to the summit to report progress. In half an hour we stood together once again. There was no need for words. The face of one and all of us announced plainly that at last we had discovered a recess of German nature untarnished by the sordid suggestion of food or drink.

"I should never have believed it possible," said Harris: "would you?"

"I should say," I replied, "that this is the only square quarter of a mile in the entire Fatherland unprovided with one."

"And we three strangers have struck it," said George, "without an effort."

"True," I observed. "By pure good fortune we are now enabled to feast our finer senses undisturbed by appeal to our lower nature. Observe the light upon those distant peaks; is it not ravishing?"

"Talking of nature," said George, "which should you say was the nearest way down?"

"The road to the left," I replied, after consulting the guide book, "takes us to Sonnensteig - where, by-the-by, I observe the 'Goldener Adler' is well spoken of - in about two hours. The road to the right, though somewhat longer, commands more extensive prospects."

"One prospect," said Harris, "is very much like another prospect; don't you think so?"

"Personally," said George, "I am going by the left-hand road." And Harris and I went after him.

But we were not to get down so soon as we had anticipated. Storms come quickly in these regions, and before we had walked for quarter of an hour it became a question of seeking shelter or living for the rest of the day in soaked clothes. We decided on the former alternative, and selected a tree that, under ordinary circumstances, should have been ample protection. But a Black Forest thunderstorm is not an ordinary circumstance. We consoled ourselves at first by telling each other that at such a rate it could not last long. Next, we endeavoured to comfort ourselves with the reflection that if it did we should soon be too wet to fear getting wetter.

"As it turned out," said Harris, "I should have been almost glad if there had been a restaurant up here."

"I see no advantage in being both wet AND hungry," said George. "I shall give it another five minutes, then I am going on."

"These mountain solitudes," I remarked, "are very attractive in fine weather. On a rainy day, especially if you happen to be past the age when - "

At this point there hailed us a voice, proceeding from a stout gentleman, who stood some fifty feet away from us under a big umbrella.

"Won't you come inside?" asked the stout gentleman.

"Inside where?" I called back. I thought at first he was one of those fools that will try to be funny when there is nothing to be funny about.

"Inside the restaurant," he answered.

We left our shelter and made for him. We wished for further information about this thing.

"I did call to you from the window," said the stout gentleman, as we drew near to him, "but I suppose you did not hear me. This storm may last for another hour; you will get SO wet."

He was a kindly old gentleman; he seemed quite anxious about us.

I said: "It is very kind of you to have come out. We are not lunatics. We have not been standing under that tree for the last half-hour knowing all the time there was a restaurant, hidden by the trees, within twenty yards of us. We had no idea we were anywhere near a restaurant."

"I thought maybe you hadn't," said the old gentleman; "that is why I came."

It appeared that all the people in the inn had been watching us from the windows also, wondering why we stood there looking miserable. If it had not been for this nice old gentleman the fools would have remained watching us, I suppose, for the rest of the afternoon. The landlord excused himself by saying he thought we looked like English. It is no figure of speech. On the Continent they do sincerely believe that every Englishman is mad. They are as convinced of it as is every English peasant that Frenchmen live on frogs. Even when one makes a direct personal effort to disabuse them of the impression one is not always successful.

It was a comfortable little restaurant, where they cooked well, while the Tischwein was really most passable. We stopped there for a couple of hours, and dried ourselves and fed ourselves, and talked about the view; and just before we left an incident occurred that shows how much more stirring in this world are the influences of evil compared with those of good.

A traveller entered. He seemed a careworn man. He carried a brick in his hand, tied to a piece of rope. He entered nervously and hurriedly, closed the door carefully behind him, saw to it that it was fastened, peered out of the window long and earnestly, and then, with a sigh of relief, laid his brick upon the bench beside him and called for food and drink.

There was something mysterious about the whole affair. One wondered what he was going to do with the brick, why he had closed the door so carefully, why he had looked so anxiously from the window; but his aspect was too wretched to invite conversation, and we forbore, therefore, to ask him questions. As he ate and drank he grew more cheerful, sighed less often. Later he stretched his legs, lit an evil-smelling cigar, and puffed in calm contentment.

Then it happened. It happened too suddenly for any detailed explanation of the thing to be possible. I recollect a Fraulein entering the room from the kitchen with a pan in her hand. I saw her cross to the outer door. The next moment the whole room was in an uproar. One was reminded of those pantomime transformation scenes where, from among floating clouds, slow music, waving flowers, and reclining fairies, one is suddenly transported into the midst of shouting policemen tumbling yelling babies, swells fighting pantaloons, sausages and harlequins, buttered slides and clowns. As the Fraulein of the pan touched the door it flew open, as though all the spirits of sin had been pressed against it, waiting. Two pigs and a chicken rushed into the room; a cat that had been sleeping on a beer-barrel spluttered into fiery life. The Fraulein threw her pan into the air and lay down on the floor. The gentleman with the brick sprang to his feet, upsetting the table before him with everything upon it.

One looked to see the cause of this disaster: one discovered it at once in the person of a mongrel terrier with pointed ears and a squirrel's tail. The landlord rushed out from another door, and attempted to kick him out of the room. Instead, he kicked one of the pigs, the fatter of the two. It was a vigorous, well-planted kick, and the pig got the whole of it; none of it was wasted. One felt sorry for the poor animal; but no amount of sorrow anyone else might feel for him could compare with the sorrow he felt for himself. He stopped running about; he sat down in the middle of the room, and appealed to the solar system generally to observe this unjust thing that had come upon him. They must have heard his complaint in the valleys round about, and have wondered what upheaval of nature was taking place among the hills.

As for the hen it scuttled, screaming, every way at once. It was a marvellous bird: it seemed to be able to run up a straight wall quite easily; and it and the cat between them fetched down mostly everything that was not already on the floor. In less than forty seconds there were nine people in that room, all trying to kick one dog. Possibly, now and again, one or another may have succeeded, for occasionally the dog would stop barking in order to howl. But it did not discourage him. Everything has to be paid for, he evidently argued, even a pig and chicken hunt; and, on the whole, the game was worth it.

Besides, he had the satisfaction of observing that, for every kick he received, most other living things in the room got two. As for the unfortunate pig - the stationary one, the one that still sat lamenting in the centre of the room - he must have averaged a steady four. Trying to kick this dog was like playing football with a ball that was never there - not when you went to kick it, but after you had started to kick it, and had gone too far to stop yourself, so that the kick had to go on in any case, your only hope being that your foot would find something or another solid to stop it, and so save you from sitting down on the floor noisily and completely. When anybody did kick the dog it was by pure accident, when they were not expecting to kick him; and, generally speaking, this took them so unawares that, after kicking him, they fell over him. And everybody, every half-minute, would be certain to fall over the pig the sitting pig, the one incapable of getting out of anybody's way.

How long the scrimmage might have lasted it is impossible to say. It was ended by the judgment of George. For a while he had been seeking to catch, not the dog but the remaining pig, the one still capable of activity. Cornering it at last, he persuaded it to cease running round and round the room, and instead to take a spin outside. It shot through the door with one long wail.

We always desire the thing we have not. One pig, a chicken, nine people, and a cat, were as nothing in that dog's opinion compared with the quarry that was disappearing. Unwisely, he darted after it, and George closed the door upon him and shot the bolt.

Then the landlord stood up, and surveyed all the things that were lying on the floor.

"That's a playful dog of yours," said he to the man who had come in with the brick.

"He is not my dog," replied the man sullenly.

"Whose dog is it then?" said the landlord.

"I don't know whose dog it is," answered the man.

"That won't do for me, you know," said the landlord, picking up a picture of the German Emperor, and wiping beer from it with his sleeve.

"I know it won't," replied the man; "I never expected it would. I'm tired of telling people it isn't my dog. They none of them believe me."

"What do you want to go about with him for, if he's not your dog?" said the landlord. "What's the attraction about him?"

"I don't go about with him," replied the man; "he goes about with me. He picked me up this morning at ten o'clock, and he won't leave me. I thought I had got rid of him when I came in here. I left him busy killing a duck more than a quarter of an hour away. I'll have to pay for that, I expect, on my way back."

"Have you tried throwing stones at him?" asked Harris.

"Have I tried throwing stones at him!" replied the man, contemptuously. "I've been throwing stones at him till my arm aches with throwing stones; and he thinks it's a game, and brings them back to me. I've been carrying this beastly brick about with me for over an hour, in the hope of being able to drown him, but he never comes near enough for me to get hold of him. He just sits six inches out of reach with his mouth open, and looks at me."

"It's the funniest story I've heard for a long while," said the landlord.

"Glad it amuses somebody," said the man.

We left him helping the landlord to pick up the broken things, and went our way. A dozen yards outside the door the faithful animal was waiting for his friend. He looked tired, but contented. He was evidently a dog of strange and sudden fancies, and we feared for the moment lest he might take a liking to us. But he let us pass with indifference. His loyalty to this unresponsive man was touching; and we made no attempt to undermine it.

Having completed to our satisfaction the Black Forest, we journeyed on our wheels through Alt Breisach and Colmar to Munster; whence we started a short exploration of the Vosges range, where, according to the present German Emperor, humanity stops. Of old, Alt Breisach, a rocky fortress with the river now on one side of it and now on the other - for in its inexperienced youth the Rhine never seems to have been quite sure of its way, - must, as a place of residence, have appealed exclusively to the lover of change and excitement. Whoever the war was between, and whatever it was about, Alt Breisach was bound to be in it. Everybody besieged it, most people captured it; the majority of them lost it again; nobody seemed able to keep it. Whom he belonged to, and what he was, the dweller in Alt Breisach could never have been quite sure. One day he would be a Frenchman, and then before he could learn enough French to pay his taxes he would be an Austrian. While trying to discover what you did in order to be a good Austrian, he would find he was no longer an Austrian, but a German, though what particular German out of the dozen must always have been doubtful to him. One day he would discover that he was a Catholic, the next an ardent Protestant. The only thing that could have given any stability to his existence must have been the monotonous necessity of paying heavily for the privilege of being whatever for the moment he was. But when one begins to think of these things one finds oneself wondering why anybody in the Middle Ages, except kings and tax collectors, ever took the trouble to live at all.

For variety and beauty, the Vosges will not compare with the hills of the Schwarzwald. The advantage about them from the tourist's point of view is their superior poverty. The Vosges peasant has not the unromantic air of contented prosperity that spoils his visa-vis across the Rhine. The villages and farms possess more the charm of decay. Another point wherein the Vosges district excels is its ruins. Many of its numerous castles are perched where you might think only eagles would care to build. In others, commenced by the Romans and finished by the Troubadours, covering acres with the maze of their still standing walls, one may wander for hours.

The fruiterer and greengrocer is a person unknown in the Vosges. Most things of that kind grow wild, and are to be had for the picking. It is difficult to keep to any programme when walking through the Vosges, the temptation on a hot day to stop and eat fruit generally being too strong for resistance. Raspberries, the most delicious I have ever tasted, wild strawberries, currants, and gooseberries, grow upon the hill-sides as black-berries by English lanes. The Vosges small boy is not called upon to rob an orchard; he can make himself ill without sin. Orchards exist in the Vosges mountains in plenty; but to trespass into one for the purpose of stealing fruit would be as foolish as for a fish to try and get into a swimming bath without paying. Still, of course, mistakes do occur.

One afternoon in the course of a climb we emerged upon a plateau, where we lingered perhaps too long, eating more fruit than may have been good for us; it was so plentiful around us, so varied. We commenced with a few late strawberries, and from those we passed to raspberries. Then Harris found a greengage-tree with some early fruit upon it, just perfect.

"This is about the best thing we have struck," said George; "we had better make the most of this." Which was good advice, on the face of it.

"It is a pity," said Harris, "that the pears are still so hard."

He grieved about this for a while, but later on came across some remarkably fine yellow plums and these consoled him somewhat.

"I suppose we are still a bit too far north for pineapples," said George. "I feel I could just enjoy a fresh pineapple. This commonplace fruit palls upon one after a while."

"Too much bush fruit and not enough tree, is the fault I find," said Harris. "Myself, I should have liked a few more greengages."

"Here is a man coming up the hill," I observed, "who looks like a native. Maybe, he will know where we can find some more greengages."

"He walks well for an old chap," remarked Harris.

He certainly was climbing the hill at a remarkable pace. Also, so far as we were able to judge at that distance, he appeared to be in a remarkably cheerful mood, singing and shouting at the top of his voice, gesticulating, and waving his arms.

"What a merry old soul it is," said Harris; "it does one good to watch him. But why does he carry his stick over his shoulder? Why doesn't he use it to help him up the hill?"

"Do you know, I don't think it is a stick," said George.

"What can it be, then?" asked Harris.

"Well, it looks to me," said George, "more like a gun."

"You don't think we can have made a mistake?" suggested Harris. "You don't think this can be anything in the nature of a private orchard?"

I said: "Do you remember the sad thing that happened in the South of France some two years ago? A soldier picked some cherries as he passed a house, and the French peasant to whom the cherries belonged came out, and without a word of warning shot him dead."

"But surely you are not allowed to shoot a man dead for picking fruit, even in France?" said George.

"Of course not," I answered. "It was quite illegal. The only excuse offered by his counsel was that he was of a highly excitable disposition, and especially keen about these particular cherries."

"I recollect something about the case," said Harris, "now you mention it. I believe the district in which it happened - the 'Commune,' as I think it is called - had to pay heavy compensation to the relatives of the deceased soldier; which was only fair."

George said: "I am tired of this place. Besides, it's getting late."

Harris said: "If he goes at that rate he will fall and hurt himself. Besides, I don't believe he knows the way."

I felt lonesome up there all by myself, with nobody to speak to. Besides, not since I was a boy, I reflected, had I enjoyed a run down a really steep hill. I thought I would see if I could revive the sensation. It is a jerky exercise, but good, I should say, for the liver.

We slept that night at Barr, a pleasant little town on the way to St. Ottilienberg, an interesting old convent among the mountains, where you are waited upon by real nuns, and your bill made out by a priest. At Barr, just before supper a tourist entered. He looked English, but spoke a language the like of which I have never heard before. Yet it was an elegant and fine-sounding language. The landlord stared at him blankly; the landlady shook her head. He sighed, and tried another, which somehow recalled to me forgotten memories, though, at the time, I could not fix it. But again nobody understood him.

"This is damnable," he said aloud to himself.

"Ah, you are English!" exclaimed the landlord, brightening up.

"And Monsieur looks tired," added the bright little landlady. "Monsieur will have supper."

They both spoke English excellently, nearly as well as they spoke French and German; and they bustled about and made him comfortable. At supper he sat next to me, and I talked to him.

"Tell me," I said - I was curious on the subject - "what language was it you spoke when you first came in?"

"German," he explained.

"Oh," I replied, "I beg your pardon."

"You did not understand it?" he continued.

"It must have been my fault," I answered; "my knowledge is extremely limited. One picks up a little here and there as one goes about, but of course that is a different thing."

"But THEY did not understand it," he replied, "the landlord and his wife; and it is their own language."

"I do not think so," I said. "The children hereabout speak German, it is true, and our landlord and landlady know German to a certain point. But throughout Alsace and Lorraine the old people still talk French."

"And I spoke to them in French also," he added, "and they understood that no better."

"It is certainly very curious," I agreed.

"It is more than curious," he replied; "in my case it is incomprehensible. I possess a diploma for modern languages. I won my scholarship purely on the strength of my French and German. The correctness of my construction, the purity of my pronunciation, was considered at my college to be quite remarkable. Yet, when I come abroad hardly anybody understands a word I say. Can you explain it?"

"I think I can," I replied. "Your pronunciation is too faultless. You remember what the Scotsman said when for the first time in his life he tasted real whisky: 'It may be puir, but I canna drink it'; so it is with your German. It strikes one less as a language than as an exhibition. If I might offer advice, I should say: Mispronounce as much as possible, and throw in as many mistakes as you can think of."

It is the same everywhere. Each country keeps a special pronunciation exclusively for the use of foreigners - a pronunciation they never dream of using themselves, that they cannot understand when it is used. I once heard an English lady explaining to a Frenchman how to pronounce the word Have.

"You will pronounce it," said the lady reproachfully, "as if it were spelt H-a-v. It isn't. There is an 'e' at the end."

"But I thought," said the pupil, "that you did not sound the 'e' at the end of h-a-v-e."

"No more you do," explained his teacher. "It is what we call a mute 'e'; but it exercises a modifying influence on the preceding vowel."

Before that, he used to say "have" quite intelligently. Afterwards, when he came to the word he would stop dead, collect his thoughts, and give expression to a sound that only the context could explain.

Putting aside the sufferings of the early martyrs, few men, I suppose, have gone through more than I myself went through in trying to I attain the correct pronunciation of the German word for church - "Kirche." Long before I had done with it I had determined never to go to church in Germany, rather than be bothered with it.

"No, no," my teacher would explain - he was a painstaking gentleman; "you say it as if it were spelt K-i-r-c-h-k-e. There is no k. It is - ." And he would illustrate to me again, for the twentieth time that morning, how it should be pronounced; the sad thing being that I could never for the life of me detect any difference between the way he said it and the way I said it. So he would try a new method.

"You say it from your throat," he would explain. He was quite right; I did. "I want you to say it from down here," and with a fat forefinger he would indicate the region from where I was to start. After painful efforts, resulting in sounds suggestive of anything rather than a place of worship, I would excuse myself.

"I really fear it is impossible," I would say. "You see, for years I have always talked with my mouth, as it were; I never knew a man could talk with his stomach. I doubt if it is not too late now for me to learn."

By spending hours in dark corners, and practising in silent streets, to the terror of chance passers-by, I came at last to pronounce this word correctly. My teacher was delighted with me, and until I came to Germany I was pleased with myself. In Germany I found that nobody understood what I meant by it. I never got near a church with it. I had to drop the correct pronunciation, and painstakingly go back to my first wrong pronunciation. Then they would brighten up, and tell me it was round the corner, or down the next street, as the case might be.

I also think pronunciation of a foreign tongue could be better taught than by demanding from the pupil those internal acrobatic feats that are generally impossible and always useless. This is the sort of instruction one receives:

"Press your tonsils against the underside of your larynx. Then with the convex part of the septum curved upwards so as almost - but not quite - to touch the uvula, try with the tip of your tongue to reach your thyroid. Take a deep breath, and compress your glottis. Now, without opening your lips, say 'Garoo.'"

And when you have done it they are not satisfied.

Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XIII

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