On the eighteenth day of June, 1904, I boarded the ferry that plies
between Detroit and the Canadian shore, and, coasting the sloping beach
of verdant Belle Isle, swung off on the first stage of my journey around
the globe. At the landing stage a custom officer glanced through my bag,
stared perplexedly from the kodak to my laborer’s garb, and with a shrug
of his shoulders passed me on into the streets of the Canadian village.
A two-mile tramp brought me to the Walkerville cattle-barns, where
thousands of gaunt calves are rounded up each autumn to come forth in
the summer plump bulls and steers, ready for the markets of old England.
From the long rows of low, brick buildings sounded now and then a deep
bellow or the song or whistle of a stock feeder at his labor. I had
arranged for my passage some days before, and, dropping my bag at the
office, I joined the crew in the yard.
Months of well-fed inactivity had not tamed the spirits of the sleek
animals that were set loose and driven one by one out of the various
stables. The racing, bellowing cattle, urged slowly up the shute into
the waiting cars by blaspheming stockmen, waving lancelike poles above
their heads, gave to the scene the aspect of a riotous _corrida de
toros_. The sun had set and darkness had fallen in the alleyways between
the endless stables before the last bull was tied and the last car door
locked. The shunting engine gave a warning whistle. We, who were to
attend the stock en route raced to the office for our bundles, and,
tossing them on top of the freight cars, climbed after them.
There were no formal leave-takings between the little stock-yard
community on the shute platform and those who were “crossin’ the pond
wi’ the bullocks.” The cars began to move amid such words of farewell as
might have been exchanged with one setting out for the nearby village:
“So long, Jim, keep sober.”
“Don’t fergit me that tin o’ Wills’ Smokin’, Bob.”
“Give me best to Molly down on the Broomielaw, Jim,” with an overdrawn
wink at that worthy standing stolidly on the last car.
Jim and Bob were “boss cattle men,” each of whom, though still young,
had made scores of trips between the barns and the principal ports of
A short run down the spur brought us to the main line of the Canadian
Pacific; our cars were joined to a train that was making up, and we made
our way to the caboose that had been rammed on behind. Though the
companies permit it, train men look with no kindly eye on the intrusion
of traveling “cow-punchers” into their home and castle. As we emerged
into the glare of the tail-lights, carrying our bundles and poles, a
surly growl gave us greeting:
“Huh! ’Nother bloody bunch o’ cattle stiffs!”
A steady run of thirty-six hours, enlivened by changes of caboose at
unseemly hours, crews of increasing surliness, and a tramp along the
cars at every halt to “punch ’em up” brought us to Montreal. The feeders
at the railroad pens took charge of the shipment and we repaired to the
“Stockyards Hotel,” a hostelry pervaded from bar-room to garret by the
odor of cattle. Thus far our destination had been uncertain, but, not
long after our arrival, information leaked out that we were to sail for
Glasgow on the _Sardinian_ two days later.
On that second evening, I reported at a wharf peopled by a half-hundred
men whose only basis of fellowship, apparently, was pennilessness and
riotous desire to secure passage to the British Isles. Twelve hundred
cattle, collected from several Canadian feeding centers, were to be
shipped and, besides the bosses, twenty cattle men were needed. A few,
like myself, had come overland with the stock trains; but the throng was
made up chiefly of those who had paid a Montreal agency $2.50 for the
privilege of shipping.
Over these we were given precedence. “Farnsworth’s gang” was summoned
first and under the lead of our boss we filed into the shipping-office,
to be greeted by a blustering officer seated before the ship’s log:
“What’s yer name?”
“Ever been over before?”
“Yes, sir, on the Manchester Importer.”
The name was recorded and I touched the pen to make binding the contract
I had signed by proxy.
“All right! Fi’ bob fer the run. Next!”
Our boss was entitled to eight men, four of whom he had already chosen.
The last of these had barely given his name, when the “agency stiffs”
swept aside the policeman who had held them back, and surged screaming
into the office. We left them to fight for the coveted places and,
stepping out into the night, groped our way on board the _Sardinian_.
Even while we wandered among the empty cattle pens, built on her four
decks, we clung jealously to our bundles, for the skill of the Montreal
wharf-rat in “lifting bags” is proverbial among seafaring men.
Towards midnight several loads of baled straw were sent on board, and
those of us who had not succeeded in hiding “turned to” to bed down the
pens. Like many another transatlantic liner, the _Sardinian_, homeward
bound, carried cattle in the spaces allotted to third-class passengers
on the outward journey. It was not, however, for this reason, as one of
my new acquaintances was convinced, that this section of the ship was
known as the steerage.
The bedding completed, we threw ourselves down in the stalls and fell
asleep. Long before the day broke, the entire ship’s company, from the
first mate to the sleepiest “stiff,” was rudely awakened by a stampede
of excited cattle and the blatant curses of their drivers. The
stock-yard tenders had tied up alongside. In three hours our cargo was
complete; the panting animals were securely tied in their stanchions;
the winch had yanked up on deck the three or four bulls that, having
been killed in the rush, were to be dumped in the outer bay; and we were
off down the St. Lawrence. The crew fell to coiling up the shore-lines
and joined the cattle men in a rousing chorus:—
“We’re homeward bound, boys, for Glasgow town,
Good-by, fare thee well! good-by, fare thee well!
We’ll soon tread the Broomielaw now, my belle,
Good-by, fare thee well; good-by.”
Our passage varied little from the ordinary trip of a cattle boat. A few
quarrels and an occasional free-for-all mélée were to be expected, for
the “stiffs’ fo’c’stle” housed a heterogeneous company. Some of our
mates were skilled workmen of industry and good habits, bound on a visit
to their old homes. Contrasted with them were several incorrigible
wharf-rats, bred on the docks of the United Kingdom, who had somehow
contrived to cross the Atlantic to what had been pictured to them as a
land “where a bloke c’n live like a gent at ’ome widout wavin’ ’is
bleedin’ flipper.” The western hemisphere had proved no such ideal
loafing-place. Bound back now to their accustomed haunts, the
disillusioned rowdies spent their energies in heaping curses on America
and those who had painted it in such glowing colors. They were not
The work on the _Sardinian_ was, as we had anticipated, hard, the food
unfit to eat, and the forecastle unfit to live in. But there were no
“first trippers” among us and all had shipped with some knowledge of the
treatment meted out to “cattle stiffs.”
On the tenth day out, the second of July, we came on deck to find, a few
miles off to starboard, the sloping coast of Ireland, patches of growing
and ripening grain giving the island the appearance of a huge, tilted
checkerboard. Before night fell, we had left behind Paddy’s Mile-stone
and the Mull o’ Kintyre, and it was near the mouth of the Clyde that we
completed our last feeding.
A mighty uproar awakened us at dawn. Urged on by the bellows of Glasgow
longshoremen, the cattle were slipping and sliding down the gangway into
the wharf paddock. Unrestrained joy burst forth in the feeders’
quarters. Enmities were quickly forgotten, the few razors passed quickly
from hand to hand, beards of two weeks’ growth disappeared as if by
magic, bags were snatched open, the rags and tatters that had done duty
as clothing on the voyage were poked in endless stream through the
porthole into the already poisonous Clyde, and an hour later the
“stiffs,” looking almost respectable, were scattering along the silent
streets of Sunday-morning Glasgow.
Strange it seemed next morning to find business moving as usual, with no
sounds of celebration, for it was the Fourth, “Independence” or
“Rebellion” day, according to the nationality of the speaker. At noon we
gathered on board the _Sardinian_ to receive our “fi’ bob” and our
discharges from the Board of Trade. These latter were good for the
return trip on the same steamer, but few besides the bosses intended to
avail themselves of the privilege. As for myself, I found another use
for the document. One who is moving about Europe in the garb of a
laborer must be ever ready to declare his station in life. The answer of
the American tramp that he is “just a’ travelin’” will not pass muster
across the water. To have called myself a carpenter or a teamster
without corroborating testimonials would have been as foolish as to have
told the truth. The discharge from the _Sardinian_, though issued to a
cattle man, did not differ materially from that of an able seaman. My
corduroy suit and cloth cap gave me the appearance of a Jack ashore. I
decided to pose henceforth as a sailor.
[Illustration: A boss cattleman of the Walkerville barns who has crossed
the Atlantic scores of times]
[Illustration: Upon arrival in Montreal I put up at the “Stock Yards
Hotel” and get a preliminary hair-cut in anticipation]
Tucking my kodak into an inside coat pocket, I sold my bag for the price
of a ticket on the night steamer to Belfast. A two days’ tramp along the
highways of the Emerald Isle was a pleasant “limbering up” for more
extended journeys to come. It might have been longer but for an
incessant rain that drove me back to Scotland.
On the afternoon of my return to Glasgow I struck out along the right
bank of the Clyde towards the Highlands. An overladen highway led
through Dumbarton, a town of factories, that poured its waste products
into the sluggish river of poison, and brought me at evening to
Alexandria. A band was playing. I joined the recreating throng and
stretched out on the village green. What a strange fellow is the
Scotchman! In a few short hours he runs through the whole gamut of
emotions, gloomy and despondent when things go wrong, romping and joking
a moment after.
The sun was still well above the horizon when the concert ended, though
the hour of nine had already sounded from the church spire.
Not far beyond the town the hills died away on the left and disclosed
the unruffled surface of Loch Lomond, its western end aglow with the
light of the drowning sun. By and by the moon rose to cast a
phosphorescent shimmer over the Loch and its little wooded islands. On
the next hillside stood a field of wheat shocks. I turned into it,
giving the owner’s house a wide berth. The straw was fresh and clean,
just the thing for a soft bed. But wheat sheaths do not offer
substantial protection against the winds of the Scottish Highlands, and
it was not with a sense of having slept soundly that I rose at daybreak
and pushed on.
Two hours of tramping brought me to Luss, a cozy little village on the
edge of the Loch. I hastened to the principal street in quest of a
restaurant, but the hamlet was everywhere silent and asleep. Down on the
beach of the Loch a lone fisherman, preparing his tackle for the day’s
labor, took umbrage at my suggestion that his fellow-townsmen were late
“Why mon, ’tis no late!” he protested, “’tis no more nor five, an’ a
bonny mornin’ it is, too. But there’s a mist in it,” he added
I glanced at the bright morning sun and the unclouded sky and set down
both statements for fiction. But a clock-maker’s window down the beach
confirmed the first, and the second proved as true before the day was
done. Stifling my premature hunger, I stretched out on the sands to
await the morning steamer; for Ben Lomond, the ascent of which I had
planned, stood just across the Loch.
About six a heavy-eyed shopkeeper sold me a roll of bologna, concocted
of equal parts of pepper and meat, and a loaf of day-before-yesterday’s
bread. The steamer whistle sounded before I had regained the beach. I
purchased a ticket at the shore-end of the distorted wooden wharf and
hurried out to board the craft. My way was blocked by a burly Scot who
demanded “tu p’nce.”
“But I’ve paid my fare,” I protested, holding up the ticket.
“Aye, mon, ye hov,” rumbled the native, straddling his legs and setting
his elbows akimbo. “Ye hov, mon. But ye hovna paid fer walkin’ oot t’
yon boat on oor wharf.”
Ten minutes later I paid a similar sum for the privilege of walking off
the boat at Renwardenen.
Plodding across a half-mile of heath and morass, I struck into the
narrow, white path that zigzagged up the face of the Ben, and soon
overtook three Glasgow firemen, off for a day’s vacation in the hills.
The mist that the fisherman had foreseen began to settle down and turned
soon to a drenching rain. For five hours we scrambled silently upward in
Indian file, slipping and falling on wet rocks and into deep bogs, to
come at last to a broad, flat boulder where the path vanished. It was
the summit of old Ben Lomond, a tiny island in a sea of whirling grey
mist, into which the wind bowled us when we attempted to stand erect. My
companions fell to cursing their luck in expressive Scotch. The remnants
of a picnic lunch under the shelter of a cairn tantalized us with the
thought of how different the scene would have been on a day of sunshine.
I was reminded, too, of the bread and bologna that had been left over
from my breakfast, and I thrust a hand hopefully into my pocket. My
fingers plunged into a floating pulp of pepper, dough, and bits of meat
and paper that it would have been an insult to offer to share with the
hungriest mortal; and I fell to munching the mess alone.
Two of the firemen decided to return the way we had come. With the third
I set off down the opposite slope towards Inversnaid. In the first
simultaneous stumble down the mountain side, we lost all sense of
direction and, fetching up in a boggy meadow, wandered for hours over
knolls and through swift streams, now and then scaring up a flock of
shaggy highland sheep that raced away down primeval valleys. Well on in
the afternoon, as we were telling ourselves for the twentieth time that
Inversnaid must be just over the next ridge, we came suddenly upon a
hillside directly above the landing stage of Renwardenen. On this side
of the Loch was neither highway nor footpath. For seven miles we dragged
ourselves, hand over hand, through the thick undergrowth, and even then
must each take a header into an icy mountain river before we reached our
Here a new disappointment awaited me. Instead of the town I had
expected, Inversnaid consisted of a landing stage and a hotel of the
millionaire-club variety in which my worldly wealth would scarcely have
paid a night’s lodging, even should the house dogs have permitted so
bedraggled a being to approach the establishment. The fireman wandered
down to the wharf and I turned towards a cluster of board shanties at
“Can you sell me something to eat?” I inquired of the sour-faced
mountaineer who opened the first door.
“I can no!” he snapped, “go to the hotel.”
There were freshly baked loaves plainly in sight in the next hovel, but
I received a similar rebuff.
“Have you nothing to eat in the house?” I demanded.
“No, mon, I’m no runnin’ a shop.”
“But you can sell me a loaf of that bread?”
“No!” bellowed the Scot, “we hovna got any. Go to the hotel. Yon’s the
place for tooreests.”
The invariable excuse was worn threadbare before I reached the last hut,
and, though I had already covered twenty-five miles, I struck off
through the sea of mud that passed for a highway, towards Aberfoyle,
fifteen miles distant.
The rain continued. An hour beyond, the road skirted the shore of Loch
Katrine and stretched away across a desolate moorland. Fatigue drove
away hunger and was in turn succeeded by a drowsiness in which my legs
moved themselves mechanically, carrying me on through the dusk and into
the darkness. It was past eleven when I splashed into Aberfoyle, too
late to find an open shop in straight-laced Scotland, and, routing out a
servant at a modest inn, I went supperless to bed. Months afterward,
when I was in training for such undertakings, a forty-mile tramp left no
evil effects; at this early stage of the journey the experience was not
The attraction of the open road was lacking when, late the next morning,
I hobbled out into the streets of Aberfoyle, and, my round of
sight-seeing over, I wandered down to the station and took train for
Stirling. Long before the journey was ended, there appeared, far away
across the valleys, that most rugged of Scotland’s landmarks, the castle
of Stirling. Like the base of some giant pillar erected by nature and
broken off by a mightier Sampson, it stands in solemn isolation in a
vast, rolling plain, the very symbol of staunch independence and sturdy
My imagination far back in the days of Wallace and Bruce, I made my way
up to the monument from the city below, half expecting, as I entered the
ancient portal, to find myself surrounded by those bold and fiery
warriors of past ages. And surely, there they were! That group of men in
bonnets and kilts, gazing away across the parapets. Cautiously I
approached them. What pleasure it would be to hear the old Scottish
tongue and, perhaps, the story of some feud among the fierce clans of
the Highlands! Suddenly one of the group strode away across the
courtyard. As he passed me, he began to sing. A minstrel lay of ancient
days, in the old Gaelic tongue? No, indeed. He had broken forth in the
rasping voice of a Liverpool bootblack, juggling his H’s, as only a
Liverpool bootblack can, in “The Good Old Summer Time.”
An hour afterward I faced the highway again, bound for Edinburgh. The
route led hard by the battle-field of Bannockburn, to-day a stretch of
waving wheat, distinguished from the surrounding meadows, that history
does not know, only by the flag of Britain above it. With darkness I
found lodging in a wheat field overlooking the broad thoroughfare.
The next day was Sunday and the weather calorific. For all that, the
highroad had its full quota of tramps. I passed the time of day with any
number of these roadsters,—they call them “moochers” in the British
Isles. Some were sauntering almost aimlessly along the shimmering route,
others were stretched out at apathetic ease in shady glens carpeted with
freshly-blossomed bluebells. The “moocher” is a being of far less
activity and initiative than the American tramp. He is content to stroll
a few miles each day, happy if he gleans a meager fare from the kindly
disposed. He would no more think of “beating his way” on the railroads
than of building an air-ship for his aimless and endless wanderings. It
is always walk with him, day after day, week after week; and if, by
chance, he hears of the swift travel by “blind-baggage” and the full
meals that fall to his counterpart across the water, he stamps them at
once “bloody lies.”
[Illustration: Women laborers in the linen-mills of Belfast, Ireland]
[Illustration: S.S. _Sardinian_. “Lamps does a bit of painting above the
In stranger contrast to the American, the British tramp is quite apt to
be a family man. As often as not he travels with a female companion whom
he styles, within her hearing and apparently with her entire
acquiescence, “me Moll” or “me heifer.” But whatever his stamping ground
the tramp is essentially the same fellow the world over. Buoyant of
spirits for all his pessimistic grumble, generous to a fault, he eyes
the stranger with deep suspicion at the first greeting, as
uncommunicative and noncommittal as a bivalve. Then a look, a gesture
suggests the world-wide question, “On the road, Jack?” Answer it
affirmatively and, though your fatherland be on the opposite side of the
earth, he is ready forthwith to open his heart and to divide with you
his last crust.
I reached Edinburgh in the early afternoon, and, following the signs
that pointed the way to the poor man’s section, brought up in Haymarket
Square. A multitude of unemployed, in groups and in pairs, sauntering
back and forth, lounging about the foot of the central statue, filled
the place. Here a hooligan, ragged and unkempt as his hearers, was
holding forth, to as many as cared to listen, on the subject of
governmental iniquities. There another, less fortunate than his
unfortunate fellows, wandered from group to group in his shirt-sleeves,
vainly trying to sell his coat for a “tanner” to pay a night’s lodging.
High above towered the vast bulk of Edinburgh castle. A royal infant
lowered from its windows, as happened, ’tis said, in the merry days of
Queen Bess, would land to-day in a most squalid lodging house. Indeed,
this is one point that the indigent wanderer gains over the wealthy
tourist. The cheap quarters, the slums of to-day are, in many a European
city, the places where the history of yesterday was made. The great man
of a century ago did not dwell in a shaded suburb; he made his home
where now the hooligan and the laborer eke out a precarious existence.
The sorry-looking building at the foot of the castle rock bore the
“Edinburgh Castle Inn. Clean, Capacious Beds, 6d.”
I had too often been misled by similar self-assertive adjurations to
expect any serious striving on the part of the proprietor to keep
anything but the sign in any marked degree of cleanliness. I was not
prepared, however, to find the place as filthy as it proved. The cutting
satire of the ensign was doubly apparent when I escaped again into the
square. A “Bobby” marched pompously up and down not far from the
brazen-voiced speaker, whose power of endurance should have won him a
“Where shall I find a fairly cheap lodging house?” I inquired.
“Try the Cawstle Inn h’over there,” replied “Bobby,” with a majestic
wave of his Sunday gloves towards the hostelry I had just inspected.
“But that place is not clean!” I protested.
“Not clean! Certainly it’s clean! There’s a bloomin’ law makes ’em keep
’em clean,” and “Bobby” glared at me as if I had libeled the King’s
Parliament and the Edinburgh police-force into the bargain.
I entered another inn facing the square, but was thankful to escape from
it to the one I had first visited. Paying my “tanner” at a misshapen
wicket, I received a stub bearing the number of my sty and passed into
the main room. It was furnished with benches, tables, and a cooking
establishment. For four pence the guest might have set before him an
unappetizing, though fairly abundant, supper. By far the greater number
of the inmates, however, were crowded around several cooking stoves at
the back of the room. Water, fuel, and utensils were provided gratis to
all who had paid their lodging. On the stoves was sputtering or boiling
every variety of cheap food, tended by tattered men who handled
frying-pans with their coat-tails as holders, and cut up cabbages or
peeled potatoes with knives on the blades of which were half-inch
deposits of tobacco. Each ate his concoction with the greatest relish as
soon as it showed the least sign of approaching an edible condition,
generally without any allowance of time for boiling messes to cool,
thereby suffering more than once dire injury.
Three days later I took passage for London and on the afternoon
following my arrival embarked at Gravesend on the _Batavien II_, bound
for Rotterdam. The steerage fare was five shillings; in view of the
accommodations, an extravagant price. My only companions amid the chaos
of so-called mattresses strewn about the hold were a German _Hufschmied_
and his bedraggled spouse, joint possessors of a bundle of rags
containing a most distressingly powerful pair of lungs. The odor of the
mattresses and the stench from the bundle turned the night into a
walking nightmare, which I spent in congratulating myself that the
voyage was to be of short duration.
I climbed on deck at sunrise to find the ship steaming at half speed
through a placid canal. Far down below us were clusters of squat
cottages, the white smoke of kindling fires curling slowly upward from
their chimneys. Here and there a peasant, looking quite tiny from the
height of our deck, crawled along across the flat meadows. Away in the
distance several stocky windmills were turning slowly yet ceaselessly in
the morning breeze.
The canal opened out into the teeming harbor of Rotterdam. A custom’s
officer inquired my profession, slapped me paternally on the back with a
warning in German to beware the “_schlechte Leute_” who lay in wait for
seamen ashore, and dismissed me, while the well-dressed tourist still
fumed over the uninspected luggage in his cabin.
I quickly tired of the confines of the city and turned out along the
flat highway to Delft. The route skirted a great canal; at intervals it
crossed branch waterways, all half-hidden by cumbersome cargo-boats.
Heavily laden boats toiled slowly by on their way to market, empty boats
glided easily homeward. On board, stocky men, bowed double over heavy
pike-poles, marched laboriously from bow to stern. Along the graveled
tow-paths that checkered the flat landscape, buxom women strained like
over-burdened oxen at the tow-ropes about their shoulders. Wherever one
met him the boating Dutchman shared most fairly with his wife the labor
of propelling his unwieldy craft, except that the wife walked and the
In the early afternoon I briefly visited Delft, and pushed on towards
the Hague. No wayfarer, obviously, could in a single day become
accustomed to the national clatter of wooden shoes. Beyond Delft I
turned into a narrow roadway paved in cobblestones and flanked by two
canals. It was a quiet route even for Holland. In serene contentment I
pursued my lonely way, gazing off across the unbroken landscape.
Suddenly a galloping “rat-a-tat” sounded close behind me. What else but
a runaway horse could produce such a devil’s tattoo? To pause and glance
behind might cost me my life, for the frenzied brute was almost upon me.
With a swiftness born of fear I took to my heels. A few yards beyond was
a luckily-placed foot-bridge over one of the canals. I made a flying
leap at the structure and gained it in safety, just as there dashed by
me at full speed—a Hollander of some six summers, bound to market with a
basket on his arm!
“S-Gravenhage,” as the Dutchman calls his capital, was a city teeming
with interest; but Holland was one of those countries which I purposed
to “do” in orthodox tourist fashion and, after a few short hours in the
royal borough, I sought out the highway to Leiden. My seeking was not
particularly successful. The mongrel commixture of German, English, and
pantomime in which I carried on conversation with the natives was a
delectable language, but it did not always gain me lucid directions.
Sharply prosecuted inquiries brought me to a road to Leiden, right
enough, but it was not the public highway. Thanks to some
misconstruction of the native dactylology, I set out for the stamping
ground of Rembrandt along the old royal driveway.
It was a pleasure, of course, to travel by the Queen’s own promenade,
especially as it led through a fragrant forest park. Unfortunately, a
royal demesne is no place in which to find an inn when hunger and
darkness come on. This one had not even a cross-road to lead me back to
the main highway, and I plodded on into the night amid unbroken
solitude. Just what hour it was when I reached Leiden I know not. Beyond
question it was late, for the good people, and even the bad, except a
few drowsy policemen, were sound asleep; and with a painful number of
miles in my legs I went to bed on a pile of lumber.
The warming sun rose none too early, though long before the first
shopkeeper. Still fasting I set off towards Haarlem. On these flat
lowlands this Sabbath day was oppressively hot. Yet how dolorously
devout appeared the peasants who plodded for miles along the dusty
highway to the village church! The men, those same men so comfortably
picturesque in their work-a-day clothes, marched in their cumbersome
Sunday garments like converts doing penance for their sins. The women,
buxom always, but painfully awkward in stiffly starched gowns, tramped
swelteringly behind the males. Even the children, the rollicking
youngsters of the day before, were imprisoned in homemade
straight-jackets and suffered martyrdom in uncomplaining silence. But
one and all had a cheery word for the passerby and never that sour look
which one “on the road” encounters on British highways.
Often, since leaving Rotterdam, I had wondered at the absence of wells
in the rural districts. Surely these peasants’ cottages were not
connected by water-mains! Pondering the question, I had thus far
quenched my thirst only in the villages. But towards noon on this hot
Sunday an imperative call for water drove me to turn in at an isolated
cottage. Beside the road ran the omnipresent canal. A narrow foot-bridge
crossed it to the gate before the dwelling, around which flowed a branch
of the main waterway, giving a mooring for the peasant’s canal-boat. The
gate proved impregnable and it required much shouting to attract the
attention of the householder. At last, from around a corner of the
building, a _Vrouw_ of the most buxom type hove into view and bore down
upon me as an ocean liner sails into a calm harbor. My knowledge of
Dutch being nil, I followed my usual method of coining a language by a
process of elimination. Perhaps the lady spoke some German.
“Ein Glas Wasser, bitte.”
It could do no harm to give my mother tongue a trial.
“A glass of water.”
I tried a mixture of the two languages. For what is Dutch after all than
a jumble of badly spelled English and German words with the endings
“Ein glass of vater.” It was the open sesame.
“Vater?” shrieked the lady with such vehemence that the rooster in the
back yard leaped sideways a distance of six feet. “Vater!”
“Ja, vater, bitte.”
A profound silence succeeded, a silence so absolute that one could have
heard a fly pass by a hundred feet above. Slowly the lady placed a heavy
hand on the intervening gate. A shadow passed over her face, as though
she were mentally calculating the strength of resistance of the barrier
against a madman. Then, with a bovine snort, she wheeled about and
waddled towards the house. Close under the eaves of the cottage hung a
tin basin. Snatching it down without a pause, the human steamship set a
course for the family anchorage, stooped, dipped up a basinful of that
selfsame weed-clogged water that flowed by in abundance at my feet, and
tacked back across the yard to offer it to me with a magnanimous sigh of
resignation. I quenched my thirst thereafter, in rural Holland, at
roadside canals, after the manner of beasts of the field—and Hollanders.
Miles away from Haarlem appeared the great flower-farms for which this
region is famous and, growing more and more frequent, continued into the
very suburbs of the city itself. Across the ultra-fertile plain beyond,
the broad highway to Amsterdam ran as straight as a geometrical line.
From the city of tulips to where it disappeared in the fog of rising
heat waves, the thoroughfare was thronged with vehicles, riders, and,
above all, with wheelmen, who, refusing to swerve a hair’s breadth for
my convenience, drove me ever and anon into the wayside ditch. The
Hollander is, ordinarily, an obliging fellow, and in the main the humble
workman or pedestrian is fairly treated. Yet that distinct line of
demarkation between the “commoner” and the “upper class” is never
obliterated. The American laborer may spend some time in the British
Isles without noting this discrimination; he will not be long on the
continent before the advantage of his status at home is shown forth in
There is not that gradual shading off from the professional man to the
coal-heaver that exists in the United States. One can no more conceive
of a Hollander who looks forward to a career in the gentler walks of
life “beginning at the bottom” than of one who aspires to the papacy
taking a wife. He whose appearance stamps him as of those who live by
the sweat of the brow cannot complain of any overt act of oppression.
Yet he is early reminded that, as a worker with his hands, he has a
distinct place in society and that he must keep to it. Among his fellow
workmen, in his own caste, he lives and moves and has his being as in
our own land. But in other ranks he catches here and there a glance, a
gesture, a protesting silence, that brings home to him his lowly status.
My zigzag tramp ended late in the afternoon, and, after a deal of
wandering in and out among the canals of the metropolis, I took a garret
lodging overhanging a sluggish waterway. The proverbial cleanliness of
Holland is no mere figure of speech. Few cities of the same size have as
little of the slum district within their confines as Amsterdam. The
Dutch laborer is, in many ways, far better off than those of the same
class across the channel. In the city there is always a _Koffie Huis_
close at hand, where eggs, milk, cheeses, and dairy products in general
are served at small cost and in cleanly surroundings. Compare this diet
with that of the British workman, who subsists often, not on food, but
on the waste products of those places where food is prepared. One can
identify a Briton of the lower classes by his teeth. At twenty he has a
dozen, perhaps, that are neither broken off, crumbling, black, nor
missing. At thirty he shows a few yellow fangs. But one cannot determine
the class of the Hollander by the same sign. His diet is too wholesome.
Parks, museums, laborers’ quarters, and the necessity of a protracted
search each evening for my canalside garret kept me three days in
Amsterdam. On the fourth I drifted on board one of the tiny steamers of
the Zuidersee and journeyed to Hoorn. Hoorn is one of Holland’s dead
cities, one of the many from which prosperity and wealth departed to
come no more as the shifting sands of the North Sea blocked up their
channels and drove away the rich commerce that was their fortune. Now
they are dead indeed. A tiny remnant of a great population clatters
along their deserted streets, a few of the ancient mansions house
humbler inmates, and all about is ruin.
By no means regretting the whim that had carried me away to this land of
yesterday, I set back along the See towards Amsterdam. The typical
Hollander is nowhere seen to better advantage than in this district. The
population plies two vocations. Along the shores and on the adjoining
islands the stolid, picturesque fisherman is predominant. In the great,
flat meadows the care of his cattle occupies the no less stolid, if less
There are wheat shocks even in Holland. As night was falling over the
vast plain I withdrew to a roadside field and retired. A Dutchman spied
me out in my resting-place at some silent hour, but sped away across the
country like a firm believer in ghosts when I offered to share my bed. I
awoke at daybreak to find myself within sight of the much maligned
island of Marken, with an unobstructed view of the quaint old church of
Monnickendam, a once populous city that has shrunk to a baggy-trousered
hamlet of fisherfolk. Beyond the town there rattled by occasionally a
milk or baker’s cart, drawn, now by one dog, now by a team of two or
three, harnessed together with utter disregard to size, breed, or
disposition. Sometimes, indeed, a canine and a human team-mate tugged
together at the traces.
There ran a rumor in my favorite Koffie Huis soon after my arrival at
Amsterdam in the afternoon, that a cargo-boat which carried passengers
for a song was to leave at four for Arnheim on the Rhine. I thrust a
lunch into a pocket and hurried down to the mooring-place of the
international liner. She was a canal-boat some twenty-five feet long and
eight wide, as black as a coal-barge, though by no means as clean; her
uncovered deck piled high with boxes, barrels, and crates ranging in
contents from beer mugs to protesting live stock. I scrambled over the
cargo and found a seat on a barrel of oil. It was already after four,
but there was really no reason for my anxious haste. No Dutch cargo-boat
was ever known to depart at the hour set.
It turned out that the overburdened craft was not yet loaded. From time
to time lethargic longshoremen wandered down to the wharf with more
bales, crates, and boxes, and stacked them high about us. It was long
after dark when their task was done, and, what with quarrels between the
captain and the crew as to the proper channel, we were scarcely out of
the harbor when dawn broke.
A long day we spent in jumping about the cargo like jack-rabbits, in a
vain attempt to keep out of the way of the crew searching for a bale to
set ashore at each wayside village. That alone would have been
endurable. But our lives were made miserable by two Hungarians, owners
of a barrel organ, who insisted that the infernal squawk which the
machine emitted was “moosik,” and who had the audacity to invite us
periodically to pay for the torture.
I left the cargo-boat at Arnheim and, halting at the principal cities on
its banks, made my way up the Rhine by steamer and on foot in a few days
to Mainz. From there I turned eastward along the highway to Frankfurt.
Strange and varied had been my sleeping-places in Germany. The
innkeepers of the Fatherland, fearful of punishment for lodging those
who turn out to be “wanted” by His Majesty’s officers, are chary of
offering accommodations to strangers. Whether it was due to the garb
that stamped me as a wanderer or to a foreign accent, it was my fate to
be treated in the Kaiser’s realm as an extremely suspicious member of
It was late at night when I reached Frankfurt. The highway ended among
the palatial edifices of the business section, and I wandered long in
search of the poorer quarters. At last, in a dingy side street a tavern,
offering _logieren_ at one mark, drew my attention. Truly it was a high
price to pay for a bed, but the hour was late and the night stormy. I
entered the drinking-room, and waiting until the _Kellner_ could catch a
moment’s respite from his strenuous task of silencing the shouts of
“_Glas Bier_” that rose above the tumult, made my wants known.
“Beds?” cried the Kellner, too busy with his glasses to look up at me,
“To be sure. We have always plenty of beds. One mark.”
But _mein Herr_ the proprietor was staring at me from the back of the
hall. Slowly he shuffled forward, cocked his head on one side, and
scrutinized me intently from out his bleary eyes.
“What does he want?” he demanded, turning to the tapster.
I answered the query myself and the customary inquisition began.
“Woher kommen Sie?”
[Illustration: A baker’s cart of Holland on the morning round]
[Illustration: A public laundry on the Rhine at Mainz, Germany]
Knowing from experience the order of the questions, I launched forth
into the story of my life, past, present, and future, or as much of it
as was in keeping with the assertion that I was an American sailor on a
sight-seeing expedition in the Fatherland. Plainly my hearers regarded
it as a clumsy tale. Long before I had ended, the proprietor, the
Kellner, and those clients of the house that had clustered around us,
fell to nudging each other with grimaces of incredulity. The _Wirt_,
harassed by the conflicting emotions of greed and fear, blinked his
pudgy eyes and glanced for inspiration into the faces about him. The
temptation to add another mark to his coffers was strong within him. Yet
what would the police inspector say in the morning to the name of a
foreigner on his register? He scratched his grizzly poll with a force
that suggested that he was going clear down through it to extract an
idea with his stubby fingers, glanced once more at the tipplers, and
surrendered to fear.
“Es tut mir leid, Junge,” he puffed, with a prolonged blink, “I am
sorry, but we have not a bed left in the house.”
I wandered out into the night and told my story to a second, a third,
and even a fourth innkeeper with the same result. In despair I turned in
at the fifth house resolved to try a strange plan—to tell the truth. In
carefully chosen words I explained my identity and my purpose in
visiting Germany in laborer’s garb. Never before since leaving Detroit
had I resorted to such an expedient, and I took good care not to repeat
the experiment during my subsequent travels. I had barely elucidated my
situation when the landlord informed me in no uncertain terms that I was
a liar and an ass into the bargain; and that a hasty retreat from his
establishment was the surest way of preserving my good health. He was a
creature of awe-inspiring proportions, and I followed his suggestion
promptly. At midnight a policeman directed me to an inn where suspicious
characters were less of a novelty, and I was soon asleep.
I had not yet well learned the lesson, begun in the British Isles, that
the homes of the famous of a century ago are the slums of to-day. Next
morning I turned back to the brilliant thoroughfares, expecting to find
somewhere along them the birthplace of Goethe. Once amid such
surroundings as the greatest of the Germans might fittingly have graced
by his presence, I addressed myself to a policeman. Goethe? Why, yes,
the name seemed familiar. He was not sure, but he fancied the fellow
lived in the eastern part of the city, and directed me accordingly. The
way led through narrow, winding streets. Now and then I went astray, to
be set right again by other minions of the law. The quest cost me a
goodly amount of shoe-leather and most of the morning, but I found at
last the landmark I was seeking—exactly across the street from the inn
in which I had slept.
There was in Frankfurt after all a lodging house where wanderers free
from the burden of wealth were welcome. I came across it during the
day’s roaming and took care not to forget its location. Several
disreputable humans were wending their way thither as twilight fell and,
joining them, I entered a great, dingy hall, low of ceiling, and poorly
served in the matter of windows. A cadaverous female, established behind
a rust-eaten wicket, was dealing out _Schlafmarken_ at thirty _Pfennig_
(7 cents) each. I pocketed one and hastened to find a place on one of
the wooden benches; for the hall was rapidly filling with members of the
Brotherhood of the Great Unwashed.
Drowsiness came quickly in the stifling atmosphere. I stepped to the
wicket and asked to be shown to my quarters.
“What!” croaked the hollow-eyed matron, “bed? You can’t sleep yet. Wait
till you hear the bell at ten-thirty.”
I turned back to the bench only to find that another squatter had jumped
my claim. Too sleepy to stand unaided, I hung myself up against the wall
and waited. If the dreams from which I was aroused were not much shorter
than they seemed, several days passed before there sounded the sudden
clang of an iron-voiced bell. The resulting stampede carried me to the
In an evilly-ventilated room, lower of ceiling than the hall below, I
found that cot thirty-seven, to which I had been assigned, could be
reached only by climbing over several of the sixty which as many men in
varying stages of insobriety were preparing to occupy. By a series of
contortions, in the execution of which I often thumped with my elbows
the man behind me and displaced my cot sufficiently to cause the
downfall of my opposite neighbor, whose equilibrium was far from stable,
I succeeded in removing my shoes and coat. To venture further in the
disrobing process seemed undesirable. I spread my germ-proof jacket
across the animated coverlet and lay down. Before the last sot had
ceased his maudlin grumbling there broke out here and there in the room
a dialogue of snores. Rapidly it increased to a chorus. In ten minutes
the ensemble would have put to shame the most atrocious steam calliope
ever inflicted upon a defenceless public. Reiterated kicks and punches
reduced to comparative silence the few slumberers within reach; by
shying one shoe at a distant sleeper whose specialty was a nerve-racking
falsetto and the other at a fellow whose deep bass set the cots to
trembling in sympathy, I brought a moment’s respite. But the dread of
going forth in the morning unshod drove me on an expedition across the
bodies of my roommates and, by the time I had recovered my footwear, the
chorus was again swelling forth in Wagnerian volume. I gave up in
despair and settled down on the hill and dale mattress to convince
myself that I was sleeping in spite of the infernal bedlam.
There runs a proverb, the origin of which is lost among the traditions
of hoar antiquity, to the effect that misfortunes travel in bands. That
it is true I have never doubted since the day following that
broken-backed night in Frankfurt. It was curiosity that called down upon
my head this new adversity, for naught else could have moved me to
investigate the secrets hidden behind a fourth-class ticket to Weimar.
In all the countries of Europe there is nothing that compares with the
fourth-class railway service of Germany. The necessity of providing some
mode of transportation cheaper than walking may be an excuse for its
perpetration, but woe betide the unsuspecting traveler who, for mere
matter of economy, abandons for this system that of our ancient
Intending to take the nine o’clock train, I purchased a ticket about
eight-forty and stepped out upon the platform just in time to hear a
guard bellow the German variation of “all aboard.” The Weimar train
stood close at hand. As I stepped towards it, four policemen, strutting
about the platform, let out simultaneous war-whoops, and sprang after
“Wo gehen Sie hin?” shrieked the first to reach me.
“Ich gehe nach Weimar.”
“Aber, the train to Weimar is gone!” shouted the second officer.
As I had a hand on the carriage door, I made so bold as to deny the
“Aber, ja, er ist fort!” gasped the sergeant who brought up the rear of
the constabulary deluge. “It is gone! The guard has already said ‘all
The train stood at the edge of the platform long enough to have emptied
and filled again; but, as it was gone ten minutes before it started, I
was forced to wait for the next one at ten-thirty.
The fourth-class carriage, unlike other European cars, was built on the
American plan, with a door at each end. In reality it was nothing more
than a box car with wooden benches around the sides and a few apologies
for windows. Almost before we were under way, the most unkempt couple
aboard stood up and turned loose what they evidently thought was a song.
Many of the passengers seemed to be victims of the same auricular
illusion, for the pair gleaned a handful of Pfennige before descending
at the first station. The bawl of cracked voices, however, was but a
prelude to worse visitations, for, as no train man enters the cars while
they are in motion, fourth-class travelers are the prey of every grafter
who chooses to inflict himself upon them.
We stopped at a station at least every four miles during that day’s
journey. At the first hamlet beyond Frankfurt the car slowly filled with
peasants and laborers in heavy boots and rough smocks, who carried
sundry farm implements ranging from pitchforks to young plows. Sunburned
women, on whose backs were strapped huge baskets stuffed with every
product of the countryside from cabbages to babies, packed into the
center of the car, turned their backs upon those of us who occupied the
benches, and serenely leaned themselves and their loads against us. The
carriage filled at last to its utmost limits, and its capacity passed
belief, a guard outside closed the heavy door with a bang, and uttered a
mighty shout of “_Vorsicht_”! (look out), evidently to inform those near
the portal that they were lucky to have “looked out” before it was
slammed. The station master on the platform, a man boasting a uniform no
American rear-admiral could afford, or dare to appear in, raised a
hunting-horn to his lips and gave as a signal of departure such a blast
as echoed through the ravines of Roncesvalles. The head-guard drew his
whistle and shrilly seconded the command of his superior. The engineer
whistled back to inform the guard that he was ready to do his duty. The
guard repeated his sibilant order. The driver liberated another pent-up
shriek to show how easily his engine could reach high C, or to imply
that he was fast nerving himself up to open the throttle; the man on the
platform whistled again to cheer him on; a heroic squeal came from the
cab in answer; and, with a jerk that sent peasants, baskets, farm-tools,
lime-pails, cabbages, and babies into a conglomerate, struggling mass at
the back end of the car, we were off. To celebrate which auspicious
event the engineer emitted a final shriek and gave a second yank, lest
some sure-footed individual had by any chance retained his equilibrium.
By the time some semblance of order had been restored, unwieldy peasant
women pulled out of the clawing miscellany and stood right end up,
cabbages and babies restored to their proper baskets, pitchforks and
smocks disentangled, the next station was reached and a sudden stop
undid all our efforts, this time stacking the passengers at the front
end. Some minutes after the train had come to a standstill, when
long-distance travelers had lost all hope of relief from the sweltering
congestion, the countrymen began slowly to wander out at the doors. The
exodus continued until there remained in the car only those few
through-passengers, who, utterly cowed and subjugated, shrank back on
the benches to escape attention. Then the vanguard of another multitude,
bound for a village some three miles distant, made its appearance and
history repeated itself.
There were times, too, during the journey when the villages were
apparently too far apart to suit the engine-driver. For occasionally,
soon after having run through his entire repertoire of toots, he
suddenly, remarkably suddenly in fact, brought the engine to a halt in
the open country. But as German railway laws forbid voyagers to step
out, crawl out, or peep out of the car under such circumstances without
a special permit from the guard, countersigned under seal by the
head-guard, there was no means of learning whether the engineer had lost
his courage or merely caught sight of a wild flower that particularly
took his fancy.
Such are the pleasures of a fourth-class excursion in Germany. Travelers
by first-class, it is said, suffer fewer inconveniences, but, however
varied the accommodations may be, the prices are more so. At every
booking-office is posted a placard giving the cost of transportation to
every other town in the Empire. He who would ride on upholstered seats
pays a bit higher rate than in the United States. Second-class costs
one-half, third-class one-fourth as much. Three other rates are quoted:
fourth-class, soldiers’ tickets, and _Hundekarten_ (dog tickets). The
German conscript pays one-half fourth-class fare and rides in a
third-class carriage. Hundekarten cost fourth-class fare. Verily it is
better in Germany to be a soldier than a dog—at least while traveling.
I arrived at Weimar late at night. A stroll to Jena the following
afternoon led through a pleasant rural district well known to the “poet
pair” of Germany and the soldiers of Napoleon. From Jena I turned
westward again, and, braving the rigors of fourth-class travel for two
interminable days, descended during the waning hours of July at the city
When August broke in the east, I turned pedestrian once more and set out
towards Paris on the _Route Nationale_, constructed in the days when
Mayence was a proud French city. The road wound its way over rolling
hills, among the ravines and valleys of which was fought a great battle
of the Franco-Prussian war. For miles along the way, dotting the
hillsides, standing singly or in clusters along lazy brooks, or
half-hidden by the foliage of summer, were countless simple, white
crosses, bearing only the brief inscription “Hier ruhen Krieger-1870.”
Beyond, the colossal statue of a soldier of past decades pointed away
across a deep-wooded glen to the vast graveyard of his fallen comrades.
A mile further on, in the open country, out of sight of even a peasant’s
cottage, two iron posts at the wayside marked the boundary established
by the treaty of Versailles. A farmer with his mattock stood in Germany
grubbing at a weed that grew in France.
Mindful of the lack of cordiality that exists between the two countries,
I anticipated some delay at the frontier. The customhouse was a mere
cottage, the first building of a straggling village some miles beyond
the international line. A mild-eyed Frenchman, in a uniform worn shiny
across the shoulders and the seat of the trousers, wandered out into the
highway at my approach. Behind him strolled a second officer. But the
difficulties I had expected were existent only in my own imagination.
The pair cried out in surprise at mention of my nationality; they grew
garrulous at the announcement that I was bound to Paris _à pied_. But
their only official act was to inspect my bundle, and I pressed on amid
their cries of “bon voyage.”
The highways of France are broad and shaded, her innkeepers neither
exclusive nor intrusive; yet even here pedestrianism has its drawbacks.
Chief among them are the railway crossings. The French system of
protection against accidents is effective, no doubt; but if _monsieur_
the Frenchman were as impatient a being as the American the mortality
would be little lessened, for the delay involved at these _traverses du
chemin de fer_ would choke with rising choler as many as might come to
grief at an unprotected crossing.
On either side of the track is a ponderous _barrière_, the opening and
shutting of which would be slow under the best of circumstances. Being
always tended by a colossal _barrièrière_ (gate-woman) who moves with
the stately grace of a house being raised on jack-screws, the barricade
is unduly effective. Ten minutes before a train is due, _la barrièrière_
hoists herself erect, waddles across the track to draw the further gate,
closes the nearer one, and, having locked both, returns to the shade of
her cottage. The train may be an hour late, but that is beside the
question. This is the time that Madame is hired to lock the gates and
locked they must remain until the train has passed. Woe betide the
intrepid voyager who tries to climb over them, for her tongue is sharp
and the long arm of the law is arrayed on her side.
Plodding early and late, I covered the round-about route through
Châlons, Rheims, and Meaux, and reached Paris a few days after crossing
the frontier. A month of tramping had made me as picturesque a figure as
any _boulevardier_ of Montmartre; moreover, August in the French capital
was neither the time nor the place to display garments chosen with the
winds of the Scottish Highlands in mind. I picked up in the Boulevard
St. Denis, at a gross expenditure of fifteen francs, an outfit more in
keeping with the weather, took up my abode in a garret of the Latin
Quarter, and roamed at large in the city for three weeks.
The month of August was drawing to a close when I swung my wardrobe of
the city over a shoulder and, wandering down the Boulevard St. Germain,
struck off to the southward. A succession of noisy, squalid villages,
such as surround most cities of the old world, lined the way to Mélun.
Beyond, tramping was more pleasant, for the route swung off across a
rolling country, unadorned with squalling urchins and mongrel curs,
towards Fontainebleau. The foot-traveler in France need have no fear of
losing his way. From Paris to the important cities and frontier towns
radiate “Routes nationales,” each known by a certain number throughout
its length. Signboards point the way at every cross-road; kilometer
posts of white stone keep the wayfarer well informed of the progress he
is making—almost too well, for when he has grown foot-sore and
ill-tempered, each one greets him with a sardonic smile that says as
plainly as words, “Huh! You’re only a kilometer further on, and a
kilometer is not a mile by a long way.”
They are excellently built, these national highways; the heaviest rain
barely forms upon them a perceptible layer of mud. But one could pardon
them a little unevenness of road-bed if only they would strike out for
their goal with the dogged determination of our own axle-cracking
turnpikes. They wind and ramble like mountain streams. They zigzag from
village to village even in a level country. The least knoll seems to
have been sufficient reason in the minds of the constructing engineers
for making wide detours, and where hills abound, there are villages ten
miles apart with twenty miles of tramping between them.
Thus far I had tramped the highways of Europe alone. Beyond Nemours, my
second night’s resting-place, I came upon two wayfarers in the shelter
of a giant oak, enjoying a regal repast of hard bread which they
rendered more palatable by dipping each mouthful in a brook at their
feet. On the plea of an ample breakfast I declined an invitation to
share the feast, but our routes coincided and we passed on in company.
The pair were young miners walking from Normandy to the great
coal-fields of St. Etienne. Thanks to the free-masonry of “the road,”
formalities were quickly forgotten, and before the first kilometer post
rose up to greet us we were exchanging confidences in the familiar “tu”
form. I soon added to my vocabulary the nickname of the French tramp. My
new comrades not only addressed me as _mon vieux_, but greeted by that
title every wayfarer we encountered, until it came to have as familiar a
sound in my ears as the “Jack” of the American hobo. Its analogy to our
“old man” is at once apparent.
There are stern laws in France against wandering from place to place. A
lone traveler may sometimes escape attention, but well I knew that in
trio we should often be called upon to give an account of ourselves. We
were still some distance off from the first village beyond our
meeting-place when an officer appeared at the door of the _gendarmerie_
and, advancing into the highway, awaited our arrival.
“Où allez vous autres?” he demanded, with officious bruskness.
“A St. Etienne.”
“Et vos papiers?”
“Voilà!” cried the miners, each snatching from an inside pocket a small,
flat book showing signs of age and hard usage.
The _gendarme_ stuffed one of the volumes under an arm and fell to
examining the other. Between its greasy covers was a complete biography
of its owner. The first leaf bore his baptismal record, followed by a
page for each of his three years of military service, all much decorated
with official stamps and seals. Then came affidavits of apprenticeship,
variously endorsed and _viséd_, and last a page for every firm that had
employed the miner, giving dates, wages, testimonials, and reasons for
leaving or dismissal. The miner bore the scrutiny with fortitude. With
his official book at hand the French laborer has little dread of the
officers of the law. After each term at his trade he may, if he sees fit
to travel a bit, give variations of the old “looking-for-work” story,
though as the date of his last employment grows more and more remote,
the gendarmerie becomes an increasing obstacle.
Without some such document no one may tramp the highways of France. He
who travels on foot for other reason than poverty, or who, being poor,
will not make his way by begging, is an enigmatical being to any race
but the Anglo-Saxon. To the French gendarme his mode of travel is proof
absolute that he is a _misérable sans-sous_ to whom every law against
vagrancy must be strictly applied.
The officer ended the examination of the books and handed them back with
a gruff bien.
“Maintenant, les vôtres,” he growled.
“Here it is,” I answered, ignoring the plurality of the French pronoun,
and I drew from my pocket a general letter of introduction to our
consular service, signed by the Secretary of State. The gendarme, who
had expected another book, opened the paper with a perplexed air which
increased to blank amazement when, instead of familiar French words, his
eyes fell on a half-dozen lines of incomprehensible hieroglyphics.
“Hein! Que diable!” he gasped. “Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça?”
“My passport,” I explained. “Je suis américain.”
“Ha! Américain! Diable! And that is really a passport? Never before have
I seen one.”
It was not really a passport by any means. I had none. But monsieur le
gendarme was in no position to dispute my word had I told him it was a
patent of nobility.
“Very good,” he went on, “but you must have another paper. Foreign
vagabonds cannot journey in France without a document to prove that they
Here was a poser. It would have been easy to assert that I was a
traveler and no workman, but it would have been still easier to guess
where such an assertion would land me. I rubbed my unshaven chin in
perplexity, then struck by a sudden inspiration, snatched from my bundle
the cattle-boat discharge.
“Bah!” grumbled the officer, “more foreign gibberish! What is that
vilaine langue the devil himself couldn’t read?”
“English,” I replied.
“Tiens, que c’est drôle que cette machine-là,” he mused, holding the
paper out at arm’s length and scratching his head.
However, with some assistance he made out one date on the document, and,
handing it back with a sigh of resignation, gave us leave to pass on.
“A propos!” he cried, before we had taken three steps, “what country did
you say you come from?”
“America,” I answered.
“L’Amérique! And being in America you come to France? Oh, mon Dieu, what
idiocy!” and waving his arms above his head he fled for the shade of his
The ways of my companions would have made them the laughing-stock of
American roadsters. They looked forward to no three meals a day. The
hope of a “set-down” never intruded upon their field of vision. In fact,
they considered that the world was going very well with them if they
collected sous enough for one or two lunches of bread and wine daily.
Yet wine they would have, except for breakfast, or they refused to eat
even bread. Like almost all who tramp any distance in France, they
“played the merchant” and were surprised to find that I ventured along
the highways of their country without doing likewise. That is, they
carried over one shoulder a bundle containing shoe-strings, thread,
needles, thimbles, and other articles in demand among rural housewives.
The demand was really very light. They _did_ make a two or three-sous
sale here and there, but the market value of their wares was of least
importance. By carrying them, the miners evaded the strict laws against
vagrancy. Without the bundles they were beggars, with them they ranked
as peddlers. The ruse deceived no one, not even the gendarme. But it
satisfied the letter of the law.
Still engrossed in discussing the character of the officer who had
delayed us, we reached a large farmhouse. With one of the miners I
lingered at the roadside. The other entered the dwelling, ostensibly to
display his wares. A moment later he emerged with a half-loaf of coarse
peasant’s bread. Madame had needed nothing from his pack, but “she made
me a present of this lump.”
It was while they were canvassing a village in quest of sales, or
crusts, in the dusk of evening that I lost sight of the miners. I had
passed the village inn, and, being always averse to retracing my steps,
continued my way alone. Had I suspected the distance to the next hamlet,
I might have been less eager to press on. Fully three hours later I
stumbled into Les Bussières and, having walked sixty-nine kilometers, it
was not strange that I slept late next morning. Besides, the day was
Sunday, and what with satisfying the curiosity of a company of peasants
in the wine-room and drinking the health of several of them, I did not
set out until the day was well advanced. Beyond the village stretched
the broad, white route, endless and deserted. The long journey before me
would have been less lonely in the company of the miners; but we had
parted and I plodded on in solitude, wondering when I should again fall
in with so cheery a pair.
In passing a clump of trees at the roadside, I was suddenly roused from
my revery by a shout of “Holà! L’américain!” What could have betrayed my
nationality? I halted and stared about me. My eyes fell on the grove and
I beheld my companions of the day before hastily gathering their
We journeyed along as before, producing our papers at each village and
being once stopped in the open country by a mounted gendarme. The miners
played in poor luck all through the morning. A single sou and an aged
quarter-loaf constituted their gleanings. Gaunt hunger was depicted on
their countenances before we reached Briare in the early afternoon and,
breaking the silence of an hour, I offered to stand the _compte_ of a
meal for three.
There was in Briare, as in every town in France larger than a hamlet, an
inn the proprietor of which catered to the vagabond class. None but a
native tramp could have found the establishment without repeated
inquiries; but the miners, needing no second invitation and guided by
some peculiar instinct, led the way down a side street and into a
squalid cul de sac. The most acute foreign eye would have seen only
frowning back walls, but my companions pushed open the door of what
looked like a deserted warehouse and we entered a low room, gloomy and
unswept. Around the table, to which we made our way through a very
forest of huge wine-barrels, were gathered a dozen peasants and a less
solemn pair who turned out to be of “the profession.”
The first greetings over, the keeper set out before us a loaf of coarse
bread and a bottle of wine, demanded immediate payment, and having
received it, resumed his seat on a barrel. His shop was, in reality, the
wine cellar of a café the gilded façade of which faced the main street.
In it the liquor that sold here for four sous the litre would have cost
us a half-franc. One of the miners, having gained my consent to the
extravagance, invested two sous in raw, salt pork which he and his
companion ate with great relish. I was content to do without such
delicacies, for the wine and bread made a very appetizing feast after
hours of trudging under a broiling sun.
[Illustration: Canal-boats laden with lumber from Nièvre entering Paris]
[Illustration: “They are excellently built, the Routes Nationales of
In the course of the afternoon I photographed the miners, a proceeding
which caused them infantine delight, both declaring that this was the
first time in their begrimed existence that they had ever been _tirés_.
We found lodging in a peasant’s wheat stack. I was a bit chary of
spending the night in so deserted a spot with two such vagabonds, for
the kodak and the handful of coins from which I had paid for our dinner
was a plunder worth a roadster’s conspiracy. My anxiety was really
ungrounded. Morning broke with my possessions intact and, after an
hour’s work in picking straw and chaff from our hair and clothing, we
set off at sunrise.
I left my companions behind soon after, for their mode of travel
resulted in far less than the thirty miles a day I had cut out for
myself, and passed on into the vineyard and forest country of Nièvre.
Harvest was over in the few fertile farms that were not given up to the
culture of the grape; the day of the gleaners had come. In the fields
left bare by the reapers, peasant women gathered with infinite care the
stray wheat stalks and, their aprons full, plodded homeward. To the
thrifty French mind there is nothing so iniquitous as to waste the
smallest thing of value. Before this army of bowed backs one could not
but wonder whether it had ever occurred to them that labor also may be
The most extravagant of its inhabitants were already lighting their
lamps when I entered the village of La Charité. To whatever benevolence
the quiet hamlet owes its name, it was typical of those rural
communities that line the highways of France. A decrepit grey church
raised a time-mellowed voice in the song of the evening angelus. Squat
housewives gossiped at the doors of the drab stone cottages lining the
route. From the neighboring fields heavy ox-carts, the yokes fastened
across the horns of the animals, lumbered homeward. In the dwindling
light a blacksmith before his open shop was fitting with flat, iron
shoes a piebald ox triced up on his back in a frame.
In lieu of the familiar sign, _Ici on loge à pied et à cheval_, the
village inn was distinguished from the private dwellings by a bundle of
dried fagots over the door. I entered, to find myself in a room
well-stocked with wooden tables, with here and there a trio of
villagers, over their wine and cards, blowing smoke at the unhewn beams
of the ceiling. In answer to the customary signal, the tapping of pipes
on the tables, an elderly woman appeared and inquired bruskly wherein
she could serve me.
“You have lodgings, n’est-ce pas?”
A sudden, startling silence greeted the first suggestion of foreign
accent. Cards paused in mid-air, pipes ceased to draw, tipplers craned
their necks to listen, and madame surveyed me deliberately, even a bit
disdainfully, from crown to toe. Satisfied evidently, with her
inspection, she admitted that she had been known to house travelers and
hurried away to bring the register, while the smoking and the drinking
and the playing were slowly and half-heartedly resumed. Madame
scrutinized intently each stroke of the coarse pen as I filled in the
various blanks, puzzled several moments over my “passport,” and dropping
all her stiff dignity, became suddenly garrulous:
“What! You are an American? Why, another American has lodged here. It
was in 1882. He was making the tour of the world on a bicycle. He came
from Boston”—she pronounced it with a distressing nasal—“but I could not
understand his French. He did not pronounce the R. He said ‘foncé’ when
he meant ‘français.’ for ‘terre’ he said ‘tèah.’ I will give you his
bed. He had not many hairs on his head. Do you eat ragoût also in
America? He wore such funny pince-nez. Fine wine, n’est-ce pas? He had
hurt his foot—” and thus she chattered on, through my supper and up the
stairs to my chamber.
The room once graced by the man from Boston was stone-floored, with
whitewashed walls, and large enough to have housed a squad of infantry.
Of its two beds, hung with snow-white curtains, I preferred the one
nearer the window. Unfortunately, my compatriot of the pince-nez had
chosen the other and madame would not hear of my violating the precedent
thus established. The price of this lodging, and the usual one in the
rural inns of France, was fifteen cents.
There were times when my zealous efforts to spend for lodging as few
sous as possible brought me to temporary grief. The night following my
sojourn in La Charité is a case in point. I reached St. Pierre le
Moutier some time after dark, and, upon inquiry for the cheapest
auberge, was directed up a dismal alleyway. On the fringe of the open
country I stumbled upon a ramshackle stone building, one end of which
was a dwelling for man, while the other housed his domestic animals.
Inside, under a sputtering excuse for a lamp, huddled two men, a woman
and a girl, around a table that canted up against the wall as if it had
borne too much wine in its long existence and become chronically
unsteady on its legs thereby. So preoccupied was the quartet in
devouring slabs of dull-brown bread and a watery soup from a common bowl
in which floated a few stray cabbage-leaves that my entrance passed
Advancing to attract attention I brought disaster. For in the
semi-darkness I stepped on the end of a board that supported two legs of
the tipsy table, causing the bowl of soup to slide into the woman’s
arms, and the loaf to roll about on the earth floor. The mishap,
evidently no new experience, aroused no comment, but it gained me a
hearing and brought me into the conversation. Of the two men, one was
the proprietor and the second a traveler of the tramp variety who,
though posing as a Parisian, spoke a decidedly mongrel language. With
the fluency of a stranded tragedian he launched forth in a raging
narration of his misfortunes. French at all resembling the educated
tongue had become as familiar to me as English, but the patois and slang
in which the fellow unfolded the story of a persecuted life would have
daunted an international interpreter. I caught the drift of his remarks
by making him repeat each sentence twice or thrice, but he ended with a:
“Heing! Tu comprinds ma’reux le frinçais;” and I was forced to admit
that if the jargon he got off were “frinçais,” I certainly did.
The younger, and consequently less begrimed of the females, led the way
to my “room,” which turned out to be a hole over the stable, some four
feet high, approached by an outside stairway, and containing two of the
filthiest cots a vivid imagination could have pictured. To my disgust I
found that one of the beds was reserved for my friend of the uncouth
tongue. A half-hour later, unstable after a final bottle of wine with
the _aubergiste_, he stumbled into the den and proceeded to make night
hideous—awake, by his multiloquence, asleep, by a rasping snore. A dozen
times I awoke from a half-conscious nap to find him sitting cross-legged
in his cot, puffing furiously at a cigarette, above the feeble glow of
which glistened his cat-like eyes as he stared at me across the
intervening darkness. At daybreak he was gone and I departed soon after.
There is really no reason why the French roadster should go hungry in
autumn. That he does, is due to a strange national prejudice unknown in
America; for at that season half the highways of France are lined with
hedges heavy with blackberries. At first I looked with suspicion on a
fruit left ungathered by the thrifty peasantry, but, coming one morning
upon a hedge unusually burdened with berries, I satisfied myself as to
their identity and fell to picking a capful. A band of peasants, on the
way to the fields, halted to gaze at me in astonishment and burst into
“Mais, mon vieux,” cried a plowman. “Que diable vas tu faire de ces
“Eat them, of course,” I answered.
“Eat them!” roared the peasants, “but those things are not good to eat,”
and the notion struck them as so droll that their guffaws still came
back to me long after they had turned a bend in the highway. Every
Frenchman I approached on the subject held the same view. The two miners
traveled for hours with a gnawing hunger, or invaded lonely vineyards at
imminent risk of capture by the rural gendarmerie, to eat their fill of
half-ripe grapes, sour and acrid. But when I, from my safe position
outside the hedge, held up a heavily-laden bush, their answer was always
the same: “Ah, non, mon vieux. Not any for me.” Obviously I could not
regret the bad repute in which the fruit was held, for when hunger
overtook me I had but to stop and pick my dinner, and except for the few
sous spent for bread and wine, my rations from Fontainebleau to the
Swiss frontier cost me nothing.
My tramp continued past Nevers and Moulin, down through the department
of Allier to the city of Roanne, stretching along both banks of the
upper Loire. A few kilometers beyond, the highway began a winding ascent
of the first foothills of the Alps. Even here the cultivation bespoke
the thrift of the French peasant. Far up the rugged hillside stretched
terraced farms, each stone-faced step of the broad stairways thickly set
with grapevines. Higher still a few wrinkled patches in sheltered
ravines gave sustenance to the most sturdy toilers. Here it is that may
be seen the nearest prototype of that painful figure known far and wide,
that stolid being who leans on his mattock, gazing helplessly away into
meaningless space; nearest, because his exact original no longer dwells
in the fields of France: he has moved southward. Down a glen below the
highway the trunk of a tree, broken off some six feet above the ground
and with a huge knot on one side, stood out in silhouette against the
distant horizon. But for a crudeness of outline one might have imagined
the stump a clumsy, ragged peasant, with a child astride his shoulders.
I stood surveying this figure, wondering what forces of the elements
could have given a mere tree so strange a likeness to a human form, when
it suddenly started, moved, and strode away across the gully.
The highway continued to climb. The patches of tilled ground gave way to
waving forests where sounded the twittering of birds, and here and there
the cheery song of the woodsman or shepherd boy. Some magic there is
inherent in the clear air of mountain heights that calls forth song from
those that dwell among them.
[Illustration: A typical French roadster who has tramped the highways of
Europe for thirty years]
[Illustration: The two French miners with whom I tramped in France.
Notice shoe laces carried for sale]
With sunset came the summit. The road began to descend, the forests fell
away, the tiny fields appeared once more, and the ballad of the
mountaineer was silent. A colony of laborers, engaged in the
construction of a reservoir, gave me greeting from the doors of their
temporary shacks, and lower still I turned in at an auberge half-filled
with a squad of soldiers.
He is an interesting figure, the French conscript. In his make-up is
none of the boisterous braggadocio of the American trooper and of Tommy
Atkins, never that scorn for civilians so often characteristic of the
voluntary, the mercenary soldier. He feels small inclination to boast of
his wisdom even in military matters, for well he knows that the jolly
innkeeper may be able to tell a tale of his own days _sous le drapeau_
that makes the conscript’s favorite story weak and insipid by
comparison. Then, too, it is hard to be boastful when one is sad at
heart; and the French conscript is not happy. To him conscription is a
yoke, akin to disease and death, which fate has fastened upon the
children of men. He dreads its coming, serves under unexpressed protest,
and sets it down in his book of life as three years utterly lost.
There is, indeed, a note of pessimism everywhere prevalent among the
masses of France. It is not a universal note, not even a constant one:
loud-voiced “calamity-howlers” are less in evidence than in our own
optimistic land. But even amid the merry chatter there hovers over every
gathering of French workmen a gloominess, an infestivity that speaks of
lost hope, of fatalistic despair. Briefly and unconsciously, a craftsman
of chance acquaintance summed up this inner feeling of his class: “Ah,
mon pauvre pays,” he sighed, “elle n’est plus ce qu’elle était.”
Chattering groups of Lyonese, mounting to the freer air of the hills in
Sunday attire, enlivened my morning tramp down the descending highway.
By early afternoon I came in sight of the second city of France and the
confluence of the Soâne and Rhône. The vineyards ceased, to give place
to mulberry trees. Even on this day of merry-making the whir of
silk-looms sounded from the wayside cottages, well into the suburbs of
the city. The humble dwellings were succeeded by mansions; the national
highway, by a broad boulevard that led down to the meeting-place of the
two rivers, and the first stage of my journey to southern Europe was
From Lyon I turned northeastward towards Geneva and the Alps. A
serpentine route climbed upward. Often I tramped for hours around the
edge of a yawning chasm, having always in view a rugged village and its
vineyards far below, only to find myself at the end of that time within
stone’s throw of a long-forgotten kilometer-post. Near the frontier
hovered a general air of suspicion. The aubergiste of the mountain
hamlet of Moulin Chabaud hesitated long and studied every dot and letter
of my papers before offering me a chair under the big fire-place; he
remained surly and distraught all through the evening, as if convinced
in spite of himself that he was harboring one whose career had not been
unsullied. When I awoke, a mountain rain was falling, cold and
ceaseless; but preferring always a certain amount of physical discomfort
to sour looks, I pushed on, splashing into Geneva long after nightfall.
It would doubtless require a frequent repetition of such experiences to
stifle that indefinable dread, akin to fear, which oppresses the weary
pedestrian who, entirely unbefriended, enters an unknown city in the
darkness of night. Limping aimlessly through the streets of Geneva in my
water-soaked garments, I felt particularly dismal and forlorn. Genevese,
huddled under their umbrellas, pushed me aside when I attempted to speak
to them or snapped a few incoherent words over their shoulders. In vain
I attempted to escape from the district of jewellers’ shops and
watch-makers’ show-windows, little suspecting that I was virtually on an
island given over almost entirely to business houses and rich dwellings.
A slippery street led to a bridge across the Rhône, and a policeman
beyond pointed out the district gendarmerie as the proper place to
prosecute my inquiries. From a window of the building shown a dim light,
and within sounded a brisk “entrez” in answer to my knock. Two police
sergeants, engrossed in a game of cards, turned to scowl at me across
“Eh bien, toi! Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?”
“I am looking for a lodging house and the policeman—”
“Lodging! At this time of night? Do you think the city provides a hotel
de luxe for vagabonds, that they may come and go at any hour—?”
“But I intend to pay my own lodging.”
“Pay! Quoi! Tu as de l’argent?”
“Certainly I have money!” I cried indignantly, though to tell the truth
the weight of it was not making me stoop-shouldered.
“Ah!” gasped the senior officer, speaking the word high up in his mouth
after the fashion of Frenchmen expressing supreme astonishment. “Que je
vous aie mal jugé! I thought you were asking admittance to the night
The shock of hearing one he had taken for a vagabond admit that he had
money was clearly a unique experience in the sergeant’s constabulary
career. He had by no means recovered when I turned away to the inn he
had pointed out.
Three days later I boarded a steamer that zigzagged between the cities
flanking blue Lac Léman, and descending at Villeneuve, set out along the
valley of the upper Rhône. Here all was free and open as the mountains
bordering the fertile strip, for the close-hedged fields of France are
not to the taste of the Swiss peasant. No gendarme waylaid me at each
hamlet; I had but to step off the highway to gather apples under the
trees or to escape from the glaring sun.
Night overtook me at St. Maurice, a sure-footed mountain village,
straddling the Rhône where it roars through a narrow gorge on its way to
the lake beyond. Even within doors the villagers speak a high-pitched
treble, so fixed has become the habit of raising their voices above the
constant boom of the cataract. In my lodging directly above, the roaring
intruded on my dreams, and in fancy I struggled against the rushing
current that carried me down a sheer mountainside.
Church-bound peasants fell in with me along the route next morning,
peasants lacking both the noisy gaiety of the French and the gloominess
of the Sunday-clad German. Wayside wine-shops, or a pace too rapid for a
day of rest cut short my acquaintance with each group, but I had not far
to plod alone before the curiosity of a new band gave me companionship
for another space.
At Martigny the highway bent with the river to the eastward; the
mountain wall crowded more closely the narrow valley, pushing the road
to the edge of the stream that mirrored the rugged peaks. Here and there
a foot-hill boldly detached itself from the range, and taking its stand
in the valley, drove off the route on a winding detour.
Two such hills gave Sion a form all its own. An ample Paradplatz in the
foreground held back the jumble of houses tossed upon an undulating
hillside. Back of the village, like gaunt sentinels guarding the valley
of the upper Rhône, stood two towering rocks, the one crowned by the
ruins of an ancient castle, the other by a crumbling church that gazed
scornfully down on the jostling buildings of modern times. A Sunday
festival was raging on the parade-ground. Around the booths and
puppet-shows surged merry countrymen in gay attire; from the flanking
shops hung streamers and the flags of many nations.
I had barely reached the town when a rumble of thunder sounded. Dense,
black clouds, flying before a wind that did not reach us in the valley,
appeared from the north, tearing themselves on the jagged peaks above.
Close on the heels of the warning a storm broke in true Alpine fury. The
festooned multitude broke madly for the shelter of the shops, the gaudy
streamers and booths turned to drooping rags, the puppets humped their
shoulders appealingly, and the parade-ground became a shallow lake that
reflected a bright sun ten minutes after the first growl of thunder.
The oppressive heat tempered by the shower, I rounded the greater of the
sentinel rocks and continued up the valley. Rolling vineyards stretched
away on either hand to the brink of the river or the base of the
enclosing mountains. A burning thirst assailed me. Almost unconsciously
I paused and picked two clusters of plump grapes that hung over the
stone coping of a field above the highway.
A stone’s throw ahead, two men stepped suddenly from behind a clump of
bushes and strolled towards me.
“Do you know what that is?” demanded one of them, in French, as he waved
a small badge before my eyes.
I certainly did. It was the official shield of the rural gendarmerie.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“Back you go with us to Sion!” roared the officer. He was a lean, lank
giant who, evidently in virtue of his length, assumed the position of
spokesman. His companion, almost a dwarf, nodded his head vigorously in
“Eh bien?” I answered, too weary to argue the matter.
“Yes,” blustered the spokesman, “back to Sion and the magistrate—” he
paused, squinted at the dwarf, and went on in dulcet tones, “unless you
pay thirty francs.”
“Thirty francs! Where on earth should I get thirty francs?”
In my excitement I somewhat bungled my French.
“Where go you?” asked the pocket edition of the law. His voice was
soothing and he spoke in German.
“To Italy. I am a workman.”
“Ja! Und in deinem Lande—in your land you may pick grapes when you like,
_was_?” shouted the long one.
“A couple of bunches? Of course!”
“_Was!_ In Italien?” In his voice was all the sarcasm he could call up
from a tolerably caustic nature.
“I am no Italian. I come from the United States.”
“United States!” bellowed the gendarme, looking around at his companion.
“What is this United States?”
“Ah-er-well, there _is_ such a country,” suggested the midget, “but—”
“And in this country of yours you do not speak French, nor German, nor
yet Italian?” snapped the officer, relapsing unconsciously into French.
“No, we speak English.”
“Mille diables! English! What then is that?”
“Ja. Es gibt so eine Sprache,” ventured the dwarf.
The spokesman ignored him.
“Well, pay fifteen francs and we have seen nothing.”
“Then back to Sion and the gendarmerie.”
“Very well, en route.”
The pair scowled and turned aside to whisper together. The tall one
continued, “My comrade says, as you are a pauvre diable on foot—five
“Five francs for two bunches of grapes, comme ça?” I gasped holding them
“Ach! Ein, unglücklicher Kerl,” urged the dwarf. “Say three francs.”
“No!” I cried, “C’en est trop. Two bunches, like that? I have here two
The leader shook his head, glanced at his mate, and took several steps
in the direction of Sion.
“Ah! A poor devil on the road,” breathed the other.
“Well, two it is,” growled the moving spirit.
I took two francs from my pocket and dropped them into the outstretched
palm. The officer jingled the coins a moment, handed one to his
companion, and pocketed the other with the air of a man who had well
performed an unpleasant duty. His threatening scowl had vanished and a
smile played on his lean face.
“Merci,” he said, dropping his shield into a side pocket and turning
back to his hiding-place, “au revoir, monsieur!” And the small man,
following close on his heels, turned to add, “Bon voyage, monsieur
I plodded on into the dusk, eating the high-priced grapes, and wondering
just where the owner of the vineyard entered into the transaction.
Somewhere near the treacherous clump of bushes I passed the unmarked
boundary between French and German Switzerland. Thus far the former
tongue had reigned supreme, though pedestrians often greeted me with
“Bon jour,” “Guten Tag.” But the voice of the street in Sierre, where I
halted for the night, was overwhelmingly Teutonic, and the signs over
hospitable doors no longer read “auberge,” but “Wirtschaft” and
“Bierhalle.” There I lay late abed next morning, and once off, strolled
leisurely along the fertile valley, for a bare twenty miles separated
the town from Brieg, at the foot of the Simplon pass.
You who turn in each evening at the selfsame threshold, you who huddle
in your niche among the cave-dwellers of great cities, you who race
through foreign lands in car and carriage as if fearful of setting foot
on an alien soil, can know nothing of the exhilaration that comes in
tramping mile after mile of open country when life blooms forth in its
prime on every hand. A single day afoot brings delight. Yet only he who
looks day after day on an ever-changing scene, who passes on and ever on
into the great Weltraum that stretches unendingly before him, can feel
the full strength of the Wanderlust within. To stop seems an
irreverence, to turn back a sacrilege. In these days of splendid
transportation we lose much that our forefathers enjoyed. There is a
sense of satisfaction akin to self-pride, a sense of real accomplishment
that thrills the pedestrian who has attained a distant goal through his
own unaided efforts, a satisfaction which the traveler by steam cannot
The highway over the Simplon, constructed by Napoleon in 1805, is still,
in spite of the encroachment of railways, a well-traveled route, though
not by pedestrians. The good people of Brieg burst forth in wailing
sympathy when I divulged my plan of crossing on foot. Traffic between
the village and Domo d’Ossola in Piedmont has for generations been
monopolized by a line of stage-coaches. There was more than the
exhilaration of such a tramp, however, to awaken my revolt against this
time-honored means of transportation, for the fare on one of these
primitive bone-shakers ranged from forty to fifty francs.
With a vagrant’s lunch in my knapsack I left Brieg at dawn, for the
first tramontane hamlet was thirty miles distant. Before the sun rose,
the morning stage rattled by and the jeering of its drivers cheered me
on. The highway showed nowhere a really steep grade, though it mounted
seven thousand feet in twenty-three kilometers. With every turn of the
route the panorama grew. Three hours up, Brieg still peeped out through
the slender _Tannenbäume_, far below, yet almost directly beneath; and
the vista extended far down the winding valley of the Rhône, back to the
sentinel rocks of Sion and beyond. Across the chasm sturdy mountaineers
scrambled from rock to boulder with their sheep and goats, as high as
grew the hardiest sprig of vegetation. Far above the last shrub, ragged,
barren peaks cut from the blue sky beyond figures of fantastic shape;
peaks aglow with nature’s most lavish coloring, here one deep purple in
the morning shade, there another, with basic tone of ruddy pink changed
like watered silk under the reflection of the rays that gilded its
Beyond the spot where Brieg was lost to view began the _réfuges_,
roadside cottages in which the traveler, overcome by fatigue or the
raging storms of winter, may seek shelter. In this summer season,
however, they had degenerated one and all into dirty wine-shops where
squalling children and stray goats wandered about among the tables. I
peered in at one and inquired the price of a bottle of wine. A spidery
female rose up to fleece me of my slender hoard and I beat a hasty
retreat, thankful to have come prepared against the call of hunger, and
content to drink the crystalline water of wayside streams.
The roadway found scant footing in the upper ranges, and burrowed its
way through several tunnels. High above one of them a glacier sent down
a roaring torrent sheer over the route, and through an opening in the
outer wall of the sub-torrential gallery one could reach out and touch
the foaming stream as it plunged into the abyss far below.
Light clouds, that had obscured the sterile peaks during the last hours
of the ascent, all but caused me to pass unnoticed the hospice of St.
Bernard that marks the summit. I stepped inside to write a postal to the
world below, and turned out again into a drizzling rain that soon became
a steady downpour. But the kilometers that had been so long in the
morning fairly raced by on the downward journey, and a few hours brought
me to the frontier.
As if fearful of losing sovereignty over a foot of her territory, Italy
has set a guard-house exactly over the boundary line, amid wild rocks
and gorges. A watchful soldier stepped out into the storm and hailed me
while several yards of Switzerland still lay between us:
“Any tobacco or cigars?”
I fished out a half-used package of Swiss tobacco, wet and mushy. The
officer waved a deprecatory hand.
“What’s this?” he demanded, tapping the pocket that held my kodak.
“A picture machine,” I explained, showing an edge of the apparatus.
“Bene, buona sera,” cried the officer, as he ran for his shelter.
At nightfall I splashed into the scraggy village of Iselle. From a
yawning hole in the mountainside poured forth a regiment of laborers who
scurried towards a long row of improvised shanties, hanging, on the edge
of nothing, over a rushing mountain river. Having once been a
“mud-mucker” in my own land, I followed after, and struck up several
acquaintanceships over the evening macaroni. The band was engaged in
boring a tunnel, thirteen miles in length, from Brieg to Iselle. With
its completion the Simplon tourist will avoid the splendid scenery of
the pass; the stage-coaches will be consigned to the scrap-heaps they
should long since have adorned; and an hour, robbed of sunshine and pure
air, will separate Italy from the valley of the Rhône. Then will the
transalpine voyager degenerate into the subalpine passenger.
There was next morning nothing to recall the dismal weather of the day
before except the deep mud of the highway and my garments, still
dripping wet when I drew them on. The vine-covered hillsides and rolling
plains below, the lizards basking on every rock and ledge, peasant women
plodding barefooted along the route gave to the land an aspect far
different from that of the valley of the Rhône. It was hard to realize
that the open fields and chilling night winds of Switzerland were not
hundreds of miles away, but just behind the flanking range.
The French and German that had so long served me must now give place to
my none too fluent Italian. In the grey old town of Domo d’Ossola I
halted at a booth to buy a box of matches.
“Avete allumette?” I demanded of the brown-visaged matron in charge.
I have always had an unconquerable feeling that the French “allumette”
ought really to be an Italian word; but my attempt to introduce it into
that language failed dismally.
“Cose sono allumette?” croaked the daughter of Italy, with such
overdrawn sarcasm that it was all too evident that she understood the
term, but did not propose to admit any knowledge of the despised
“Fiammiferi, voglio dire,” I replied, recalling the correct word.
“Ah! Ecco!” cried the matron, handing me a box with her blandest smile.
I quickly discovered, too, that the language of the Divine Comedy was
not the one in which to make known my simple wants. But being more
familiar with the phraseology of the famous Florentine than with the
speech of the masses, I found myself, in those first days in the
peninsula, prone to converse in poetics despite a very prosaic
temperament. As when, in the outskirts of Domo d’Ossola, I turned to a
chestnut vendor at a fork in the road, and pointing up one of the
“Ah!—er—Perme si va nella città dol—Confound it, no, I mean is this the
road to Varese?”
To which the native, to whose lips was mounting a “non capisc’” at sound
of the Dantesque phrase, answered in a twinkling:
“Di s’guro, s’gnor’, semp’ dritt!”
Across northern Italy, almost in a straight line, are scattered several
famous cities, all invaded by the broad highway that leads from the
Simplon to Venice. Most beautiful among them is Pallanza, a village
paradise on the shore of Lago Maggiore, in the lakeside groves of which
I should have tarried longer but for the recollection of how wide the
world is to the impecunious wayfarer. I fished out, therefore, from the
bin of a second-hand book dealer a ragged Baedeker in French, and, thus
armed with a more trustworthy source of information than dull-eyed
peasants, boarded the steamer that connected the broken ends of the
highway. During the short journey a band of English tourists sauntered
about on the deck above me, and my native tongue, unheard since Paris
and not to be heard again until—well, until long after, sounded almost
foreign to my ears.
Beyond Varese next morning, within sight of five snow-capped peaks of
the range I had crossed three days before, I espied from afar the white
sun-shields of two officers, armed with muskets, and marching westward.
Anticipating a quizzing, I turned aside from the sun-scorched route and
awaited their coming in a shaded spot. Strange to say, in this land
burdened with a tax on salt and an unholy visitation of soldiers and
priests, vagrants enjoy far more liberty than in France. Thus far the
indifference of the gendarmerie had been so marked that I had come to
feel neglected. Yet tramps abounded. This very freedom makes Italy a
favorite land among the _Handwerksgesellen_ of Switzerland, Germany, and
Austria, many of whom I had already met, marching southward full of
Wanderlust, or crawling homeward with bitter stories of the miseries of
The _carabinieri_, spick and span of uniform, their swords rattling
egotistically on the roadway, drew near, and, stepping into the shade,
opened a conversation that needs no translation.
“Di dove siete?”
“Di America, dei Stati Uniti.”
“Di America! Ma! E dove andate?”
“Ma! Come! A piedi?”
“Di siguro. Come volete che fare?”
“Ma! Perche andare a Venezia?”
“Ah! Marinaio! Bene!” and without even calling for my papers they
strutted on along the highway.
A wonderful word is this Italian “ma.” Let not the uninitiated suppose
that the term designates a maternal ancestor. But—and that is its real
meaning—it is a useful vocable and like all useful things is greatly
overworked. If an Italian of the masses wishes to express disgust,
surprise, resignation, depression of spirits, or any one of a score of
other impressions, he has merely to say “ma” with the corresponding
accentuation and timbre and his hearers know his opinion exactly. It
takes the place of our “All right!” “Hurry up!” “Quit it!” “Let ’er go!”
“The devil he did!” “Rot!” “Dew tell!” “Cuss the luck!” “Nuff said!”
“D—n it!” and there its meanings by no means cease.
Poverty stalks abroad in Italy. Even in this richer northern section it
required no telescope to make out its gaunt and furrowed features.
Ragged children quarrelled for the possession of an apple-core thrown by
the wayside; the rolling fields were alive with barefooted women toiling
like demon-driven serfs. A sparrow could not have found sustenance
behind the gleaners. In wayside orchards men armed with grain-sacks
stripped even the trees of their leaves; for what purpose was not
evident, though the beds to which I was assigned in village inns
suggested a possible solution of the problem.
The peasant of these parts possesses three beasts of burden: a team of
gaunt white oxen—or cows—an undersized ass, and his wife. Of the three,
the last is most useful. The husbandman does not load his hay on wagons;
a few blades might fall by the wayside. He ties it carefully in small
bundles, piles them high above the baskets strapped on the backs of his
helpmeet, and drives her off to the village, often miles distant. They
are loads which the American workman would refuse to carry—so does the
Italian for that matter; but the highway is animate with what look, at a
distance, like wandering haystacks, from beneath which, on nearer
approach, peer women, or half-grown girls, whose drawn and haggard faces
might have served as models to those artists who have depicted on canvas
the beings of Dante’s hell.
A traveler, ignorant of Italian, wandering into Como at my heels on that
sweltering afternoon, would have been justified in supposing that the
advance agent of a circus had preceded him. Had he taken the trouble to
engage an interpreter, however, he would have learned that a more
serious catastrophe had befallen. The very night before a
longed-hoped-for heir to the throne of Vittore Emanuele had dropped into
his reserved seat on the neck of the Italian tax-payer. On the city
gate, on house-walls everywhere, on the very façade of the cathedral,
great, paste-sweating placards announced the casuality in flaunting
head-lines, and a greater aggregation of adjectives than would be
required in our own over-postered land to call public attention to the
merits of Chow Chow Chewing Gum, or the Yum Yum Burlesque Company. Worst
of all, the manifesto ended, not with expressions of condolence to the
proletariat, but with a command to swear at once loyalty and fealty to
“Il Principe di Piemonte.” Everywhere jostling groups were engrossed in
spelling out the proclamation; but it was quite possible to pass through
the streets of Como without being trampled under foot by its citizens in
their mad rush to carry out the royal order.
Nightfall found me in quest of a lodging in Pusiano, a lakeside village
midway between Como and Lecco. It was no easy task. The _alberghi_ of
Italy—but why generalize? They are all tarred with the same stick. The
proprietor, then, of the Pusiano hostelry, relying for his custom on
those who know every in and out of the town, had not gone to the expense
of erecting a sign. I found, after long and diligent search, the edifice
that included the public resort under its roof; but as the inn had no
door opening on the street, I was still faced with the problem of
finding the entrance. Of two dark passages and a darker stairway before
me, it was a question which was most suggestive of pitfalls set for
unwary travelers, and of dank, underground dungeons. I plunged into one
of the tunnels with my hands on the defensive; which was fortunate, for
I brought up against a stone wall. The second passage ended as abruptly.
I approached the stairway stealthily; stumbled up the stone steps, over
a stray cat and a tin pan, and into the common room of the Pusiano
inn—common because it served as kitchen, dining-room, parlor, and
My wants made known, the proprietor half rose to his feet, sat down
again, and motioned me to a seat. I took a place opposite him on one of
the two benches inside the fire-place, partly because it had been
raining outside, but chiefly on account of an absence of chairs that
left me no choice in the matter. Shrouded in silence I filled my pipe.
The landlord handed me a glowing coal in his fingers and dropped back on
his bench without once subduing his stare. His wife wandered in and
placed several pots and kettles around the fire that toasted our heels.
Still not a word. I leaned back and, gazing upward, watched as much of
the smoke as could find no other vent pass up the chimney. Now and then
a drop of rain fell with a hiss on pan or kettle.
“Not nice weather,” grinned the landlord, and the ice thus broken, we
were soon engaged in animated conversation. Too animated in fact, for in
emphasizing some opinion mine host had the misfortune to kick over a
kettle of boiling macaroni and was banished from the chimney corner by a
raging spouse. Being less given to pedal gesticulation, I kept my place,
and strove to answer the questions which the exile fired at me across
By meal time several natives had dropped in, and our party at table grew
garrulous and in time so numerous that to serve us became a serious
problem to the hostess, who was neither lithe nor quick of movement. The
supper began with _una minestra_, a plate of soup containing some
species of macaroni and, as usual in these cheap alberghi, several
species of scrap-iron. Then a bit of meat was doled out, somewhat to my
surprise; for the price of this article is so high in Italy that a stew
of kidneys, liver, sheep’s head, or fat-covered entrails is often the
only offering. He who has the temerity and a heavy enough purse to order
a cutlet or a _bistecca_ in such an inn is looked upon with awe and envy
as long as he remains. I seldom had either.
Following the meat dish—it is never served with it—came a bowl of
vegetables, then a bit of fruit and a nibble of cheese for each of us.
Wine, of course, had been much in evidence; the Italian has no
conception of a meal without his national drink. The wayfarer may call
for nothing to eat but the three-cent minestra, and la signora serves it
as cheerily as a dinner at one lira; but let him refuse to order wine,
and her sympathy is forever forfeited. When drowsiness fell upon me the
hostess led the way to an airy, spacious room, its bed boasting a lace
canopy, and its coarse sheets remarkably white in view of the fact that
the Italian housewife does her work in the village brook, and never uses
hot water. Such labor is cheap in the peninsula and for all this luxury
I paid less than ten cents.
Early next day I pushed on toward Lecco. A light frost had fallen during
the night, and the peasants, alarmed at this first breath of winter, had
sent into the vineyards every man, woman, and child capable of labor.
The pickers worked feverishly. All day women plodded from the fields to
the roadside with great buckets of grapes to be dumped into hogsheads on
waiting ox-carts. Men, booted or shod with wooden clogs, jumped now and
then into the barrels and stamped the grapes down. Once full, the
receptacles were covered with strips of dirty canvas, the _contadino_
mounted his cart, turned his oxen into the highway, and fell promptly
asleep. Arrived at the village, he drew up before the chute of the
communal wine-press and shoveled his grapes into a slowly-revolving
hopper, from which, crushed to an oozy pulp, they were run into huge
vats and left to settle.
Halting for a morning lunch in the shadow of the statue of Manzoni, I
rounded that range of mountains, so strangely resembling a saw, which
shelters Lecco from the east wind, and continuing through the theater of
action of “I Promessi Sposi,” gained Bergamo by nightfall. Beyond that
city a level highway set an unchanging course across a vast,
grape-bearing plain, watered by a network of canals. The Alps retired
slowly to the northward until, at Brescia, only a phantom range wavered
in the haze of the distant horizon.
About the time of my arrival in Italy, a strike had been declared in
Milan. The Milanese motormen had refused to groom their horses or
something of the sort. Once started, the movement was rapidly growing
general and widespread. The newspapers bubbled over with it, the air
about me was surcharged with raging arraignments of capitalistic
iniquities. Strikes and lock-outs, however, were no affairs to trouble
the peace of a foot-traveler. When trains ceased to run, I marched
serenely on through clamoring groups of stranded voyagers; when the
barbers closed their shops, I decided to raise a beard. The butchers
joined the movement and I smiled with the indifference of one who had
subsisted for weeks chiefly on bread.
The bakers of northern Italy concoct this important comestible in loaves
of about the size and durability of baseballs. Serving in that capacity
there is good reason to believe that one of them would remain unscathed
at the end of a league game, though the score-book recorded many a
three-bagger and home-run. Still, hard loaves soaked in wine, or crushed
between two wayside rocks were edible, in a way; and, as long as they
were plentiful, I could not suffer for lack of food.
A few miles beyond Brescia, however, the strike became a matter of
personal importance. At each of the bakeries of a grumbling village I
was turned away with the cry of:—
“Pane non ch’è! The strike! The bakers have joined the strike and no
more bread is made!”
To satisfy that day’s appetite I was reduced to “paste,” a mushy mess of
macaroni; and at a Verona inn I was robbed of half my sleep by the
discussion of this new phase of the situation, that roared in the
kitchen until long after midnight.
I was returning across the piazza next morning, from an early view of
the picturesque bridges and the ancient Colosseum of Verona, when I fell
upon a howling mob at the gateway of the city hall. Joining the throng,
I soon gained an inner courtyard, to find what seemed to be half the
population of Verona quarreling, pushing, and scratching in a struggle
to reach the gate of a large wicket that shut off one end of the square.
Behind it, just visible above the intervening sea of heads, appeared the
top of some massive instrument, and the caps of a squad of policemen. I
inquired of an excited neighbor the cause of the squabble. He glowered
at me and howled something in reply, the only intelligible word of which
was “pane” (bread). I turned to a man behind me. He took advantage of my
movement to shove me aside and crowd into my place, at the same time
vociferating “pane!” I tried to oust the usurper. He jabbed me twice in
the ribs with his elbows, and again roared “pane.” In fact, everywhere
above the howl and blare of the multitude, one word rang out clear and
sharp—“pane! pane! pane!” Sad experiences of the day before, and the
anticipation of the long miles of highway before me, had aroused my
interest in that commodity. I dived into the human whirlpool and set out
to battle my way towards the vortex.
With all its noise and bluster, an Italian crowd does not know the
rudiments of football. Even the wretch who had dispossessed me of my
first vantage-ground was far behind when I reached the front rank and
paused to survey the scene of conflict. Inside the wicket a dozen
perspiring policemen were guarding several huge baskets of that baseball
bread already mentioned. Beyond them stood the instrument that had
attracted my attention—a pair of wooden scales that looked fully capable
of giving the avoirdupois of an ox. Still further on, an officer, whose
expression suggested that he was recording nominations of candidates to
fill the King’s seat, presided over a ponderous book, a pen the size of
a stiletto behind each ear, and one resembling a young bayonet in his
One by one the citizens of Verona shot through a small gate into the
enclosure from the surging multitude outside as from a catapult; to be
brought up with a round turn by the shouted question, “Pound or two
pounds?” Once weighed out, the desired number of loaves traveled rapidly
from hand to hand on one side of the official line; while the applicant,
struggling to keep pace with them on the other, paused before the
registering clerk to answer several pertinent personal questions,
corralled his purchase at the table of the receiving teller, and made
his escape as best he could.
Almost before I had time to study the workings of this system, the press
of humanity behind sent me spinning through the gate. “Two pounds!” I
shouted, as I swept by the scales en route for the book. Just in front
of me a gaunt creature paused and gave his residence as Florence. “No
bread for you!” roared every officer within hearing; policemen,
sergeants, and clerks, in a rousing chorus, “Only bread for Veronese!
Get out of here!” and, impelled by two official boots, the stranger
stood not on the order of his going.
That Florentine was a god-send to me. In my innocence I had already
opened my mouth to shout “Americano” to his Self-Complacency behind the
volume, and, had that fateful word escaped me, I should have gone
“paneless” through the long hours of a long day.
“Residenza?” shouted the registrar, as I entered his field of vision.
“Street and number.”
I remembered the name of one street and tacked on a number haphazard.
“Bene! Va!” An official hand pushed me unceremoniously towards the
teller. I dropped ten soldi, gathered up my bread, and departed by the
further wicket-gate down a flagstone alley.
Let him who has not tried it take my word that to carry two pounds of
edible baseballs in his arms is no simple task. A loaf rolled in the
gutter before I had advanced a dozen paces. The others squirmed
waywardly in my grasp. With both hands amply occupied, I was reduced to
the indignity of squatting on the pavement to fill my pockets, and even
then a witless observer would have taken me for an itinerant juggler.
Never since leaving Detroit had I posed as a philanthropist, but the
burden of bread called for drastic measures; I must either be charitable
He who longs to give alms in Italy has not far to look for a recipient
of his benefaction. I glanced down the passageway, and my eyes fell on a
beggar of forlornly mournful aspect crouched in a gloomy doorway. With a
benignant smile I bestowed upon him enough of my load with which to play
the American national game among his confrères until the season closed.
The outcast wore a sign marked, “Deaf and dumb.” Either he had picked up
the wrong placard in sallying forth, or had been startled out of his
rôle by the munificence of the gift. For as long as a screeching voice
could reach me I was deluged with more blessings, to be delivered by the
Virgin Mary; Her Son; every pope, past, present, or to come; or any
saint, dead, living, or unborn, who had a few stray ones about him; than
I could possibly have found use for.
I plodded on towards Vincenza. All that day the hard-earned loaves,
which I dissolved in a glass of wine at village inns, aroused the envy
of pessimistic groups gathered to curse the strike in general and that
of the bakers in particular.
When morning broke again I summoned courage to test the third-class
accommodations of Italy, and took train from Vincenza to Padua. At
least, the ticket I purchased bore those two names, though the company
hardly lived up to the printed contract thereon. We started from
somewhere off in the woods to the west of Vincenza and, at the end of
several hours of jolting and bumping, not excused, certainly, by the
speed of the train, were set down in the center of a wheat field, which
the guards informed us, in blatant voices, was Padua. I had a faint
recollection of having heard somewhere that Padua boasted buildings and
streets, like other cities. It was possible, of course, that the source
of my information had been untrustworthy; I am nothing if not gullible.
But fixed impressions are not easily effaced, and I wandered out through
the sequestered station to whisper my absurd delusion to the first
“Padova!” he snorted, “Ma! Di siguro! Certainly this is Padua! Follow
this road for a kilometer. Just before you come in sight of a
whitewashed pig-sty turn to the left, walk sempre dritt’, and the city
cannot escape you.”
I set out with the inner sense of having been “done” by the railway
company, but the good man’s directions proved accurate and brought me in
due time to the city gate.
The Italian stammers two excuses for this enchanting custom of banishing
his stations to the surrounding meadows. If the city admitted railways
within her walls—and every town larger than a community of goat-herds
_is_ walled—how could the officials of the octroi collect the duty on a
cabbage hidden in the fireman’s tool-box? Or in case of foreign
invasion! A regiment of Austrians ensconced under the benches of the
third-class coach might, if they survived the journey, butcher the
entire population before their presence was suspected. Besides, who
could live in peace and contentment knowing that the sacred intermural
precincts might at any moment be deluged with a train-load of cackling,
beBaedekered tour—But no, now I think of it, my informant offered only
Those who are victims of insomnia should journey to Padua. There may be
in the length and breadth of Europe another community as conducive to
sleep, but it has thus far escaped discovery. The sun is undoubtedly hot
in Italy during the summer months. There runs a proverb in the peninsula
to the effect that only fools and the English—which of course, includes
Americans—venture forth near noonday without at least the protection of
a parasol. But having suffered no evil effects during weeks of tramping
in the country with only a cap on my head, I, for one, should hesitate
to charge entirely to climatic conditions the torpor of the Padovans.
At any rate the city was lost in slumber. The few horses dragged their
vehicles at a snail’s pace; the drivers nodded on their seats; those few
shopkeepers who had not put up their shutters and retired to the bosom
of their families could with difficulty be aroused from their siestas to
minister to the wants of yawning customers. The very dogs slept in the
gutters or under the chairs of their torpescent masters, and, to judge
from many a building that was crumbling away and falling asleep like the
inhabitants, this Morpheusatic tendency was no temporary characteristic.
However, the general somnolence permitted me to view in peace the
statues and architecture for which the drowsy city is justly renowned,
and leaving it to slumber on, I set off at noonday on the last stage of
my journey across northern Italy. The phantom range of the Alps had
disappeared. Away to the eastward stretched a land as flat and unbroken
as the sea which, tossing its drifting sands on a lee shore through the
ages, has drawn this coast further and further towards the rising sun.
Walking had been easier on the long mountain ascents behind, for a
powerful wind from off the Adriatic pressed me back like an unseen hand
at my breast. Certain as I had been of reaching Fusiano on the coast
before the day was done, twilight found me still plodding on across a
barren lowland. With the first twinkling star a faint glow appeared to
the left and afar off, giving center to the surrounding darkness.
Steadily it grew until it illuminated a distant corner of the firmament,
while the wind howled with ever-increasing force across the unpeopled
Night had long since settled down when the lapping of waves announced
that I had overtaken the retreating coast-line. A few ramshackle hovels
rose up out of the darkness, but still far out over the sea hovered the
glow in the sky—no distant conflagration, as I had supposed, but the
reflected lights of Venice. Long cherished visions of a cheering meal
and a soft couch, before my entrance into the city of the sea, vanished;
for there was no inn among the hovels of Fusiano. I took shelter in a
shanty down on the beach and awaited patiently the ten-o’clock boat.
By the appointed hour there had gathered enough of a swarthy crowd to
fill the tiny steamer that made fast with great difficulty to the crazy
wharf. On the open sea the wind was riotous, and our passage took on the
aspect of a transatlantic trip in miniature. Now and then a wave spat in
the faces of the passengers huddled aft. A ship’s officer jammed his way
among us to collect the six-cent tickets. Behind him the officials of
the Venice octroi were busily engaged in levying dues on produce from
the country. Two poor devils, gaunt as death’s heads, crouched in the
waist, guarding between them a bundle of vegetables that could be bought
a few centesimi cheaper on the mainland than in the city. The stuff
could not have satisfied the normal appetite of one man; yet in spite of
their pleadings, the pair were compelled to drop their share of soldi
into the official bag.
By and by the toss of the steamer abated somewhat. I pushed to the rail
to peer out into the night. Off the port bow appeared a stretch of
smooth water in which were reflected the myriad lights of smaller craft
and the illuminated windows of a block of houses rising sheer out of the
sea. We swung to port. A gondola, weirdly lighted up by torches on bow
and poop, glided across our bow. The houses born of the sea took on
individuality, a wide canal opened on our left and curved away between
other buildings, the splendor of their façades faintly suggested in the
light of mooring-post lamp and lantern. It was the Grand Canal. The
steamer nosed its way through a fleet of empty gondolas, tied up at a
landing stage before a marble column bearing the lion of St. Mark, and
the passengers hurried away across the cathedral square to be swallowed
up in the night.
In a city of streets and avenues there are certain signs which point the
way to the ragged section, but among the winding waterways and arcade
bridges of this strange metropolis such indications were lacking. A full
two hours I tramped at utter random, on the blisters of the highway from
Padua, only to turn up at last in an albergo within a stone’s throw of
my landing-place and the Palace of the Doges.
The squares and alleys of Venice are strewn with human wreckage. In the
rest of Italy the most penurious wretch may move from place to place in
an attempt to ameliorate his condition; but on this marshy island the
man unable to scrape together a few soldi for boat or car fare is a
prisoner. The captives are little accustomed to sleep within doors.
Lodging, obviously, must be high in a city where space is absolutely
limited; but there are “joints” where food sells more cheaply than
anywhere else on the continent.
On the evening following my arrival, I came upon one of these
establishments which rubbed shoulders with the cathedral of St. Mark.
Appetite alone certainly could not have enticed me inside, but eager to
scrape acquaintance with the submerged tenth—the fraction seems small—of
Venice, I crowded my way into the kennel. A lean and hungry multitude
surged about the counter. At one end of it was piled a stack of plates;
near them stood a box which, to all appearances, had long done service
as a coal scuttle, filled to overflowing with twisted and rust-eaten
forks and spoons. The room was foggy with the steam that rose from a
score of giant kettles containing as many species of stew, soup, and
Each client, conducting himself as if he had been fasting for a week
past, snatched a plate from the stack; thrust a paw into the box for a
weapon of attack, and dropping a few coppers of most unsanitary aspect
into the dish, shoved it with a savage bellow at that one of the kettles
the contents of which had taken his fancy. A fogbound server scraped the
soldi into the till, poured a ladleful of steaming slop into the
outstretched trencher, and the customer fought his way into a dingy
[Illustration: A Venetian pauper on the Rialto bridge]
[Illustration: My gondolier on the Grand Canal]
Amid the uproar I had no time to inquire prices. I proffered six cents
to a wrinkled hag presiding over a caldron of what purported to be a
tripe and liver ragoût. She cried out in amazement, handed back four
cents, and filled my plate to the rim. I reached the back-room with half
the mess—the rest being scooped up in the coat sleeves of the famished
throng—and took my place at an already crowded table. Neither bread nor
wine was to be had in the house. On a board propped up across a corner
of the room were several cylinders of corn mush, three feet in diameter
and half as thick. A hairless creature, stripped to the waist, cut off
slabs of the cake for those who would have something to take the place
of bread. The yellow dough sold at two cents a pound, yet each order was
carefully weighed, and purchaser and server watched the scales jealously
during the operation. As a substitute for wine there was a jar of water,
that abominable, germ-infested water of Venice, from which each drank in
Every type of wretch which the city shelters was represented in the
emaciated gathering. Rag-pickers snarled at cathedral beggars. Street
urchins jostled bearded bootblacks. Female outcasts rubbed elbows with
those gruesome beings who pick up a few cents a day at the landing
stages. My boisterous appetite dwindled away at sight of the messes
around me and in the exploration of the mysteries of my own portion. All
at once there burst upon me the recollection that I had seen neither a
dog nor a cat during all that day in Venice, and I turned and fought my
way to the door. Behind me rose a quarrel over my unfinished portion.
Outside, on the square beside the fallen campanile, kind-hearted
tourists were feeding wholesome grain to a flock of pigeons, above which
magnificent statues looked down upon a crowd of homeless waifs huddled
under the portico of the Palace of the Doges.
I turned down to the landing stage one morning resolved on the
extravagance of a gondola excursion. The water cabmen of Venice are not
wont to solicit men in corduroys and flannel shirt. A score of them,
just recovering from a stampede on a tow-head in regulation tourist
garb, greeted my arrival with the fishy eye of indifference. When I
boldly announced my plan, they crowded around me to laugh in derision at
the laborer seeking to play the lord. For some time they refused to take
my words seriously, and even then the first skeptic to be convinced
insisted on proof of my financial solvency before he proffered his
Along the Grand Canal passing gondoliers, without passengers to keep
them decorous, flung cutting jests at my propeller.
“Eh! Amico! What’s that you’ve got?”
“Ch’è un rico, colui quà, eh?”
“Sangue della Vergine, caro mio, dove hai accozzato quello?”
But once assured of his fare, the fellow lost his smirk and became all
servility, pointing out the objects of interest with a mien of owl-like
solemnity, and rebuking his fellow-craftsmen with an admonishing shake
of the head.
Fear drove me forth from Venice before I had rested the miles from Paris
out of my legs—fear that in a few days more the mosquitoes would finish
their nefarious work and devour me quite. On the Sunday evening
following the opening of the carnival, I fought my confetti-strewn way
to the station and “booked” for Bologna. I had not yet, however, learned
all the secrets of Italian railway travel. The official who snatched my
ticket at the exit to the platform and the midnight express handed it
back and pushed me away with a withering glare:
“No third-class on this train,” he growled, “wait for the slow train at
five in the morning.”
How any particular one of the trains of Italy could be discriminated
against by being called slow was hard to comprehend. Perhaps I
misunderstood the gateman. He may have said “the more slower train.” At
any rate, I was left to stretch out on a truck and await the laggard
Under a declining sun our funereal caravan crawled into Bologna, and I
struck out along the ancient highway to Florence. Between the two cities
stretches an almost unbroken series of mountain ranges, a
poverty-stricken territory given over to grazing and wine-production,
and little known to tourists, for the railway sweeps in a great
half-circle around the northern end of the barrier. A few miles from the
university town the highway began a winding ascent in Simplon-like
solitude, save where a vineyard clung to a wrinkled hillside. At such
spots tall, cone-shaped buckets of some two bushels’ capacity stood at
the roadside, some filled with grapes, others with the floating pulp
left by the crushers.
What species of crusher was used I did not learn until nearly nightfall.
Then, suddenly rounding a jutting boulder, I stepped into a group of
four women, their skirts tied tightly around their loins, slowly
treading up and down in as many buckets of grapes. One of them, a young
woman by no means unattractive, sprang out of the bucket with a startled
gasp, let fall her skirts over legs purple with grape-juice far above
the knees, and fled to the vineyard. Her companions, too young or too
old to find immodesty in the situation, gazed in astonishment at the
fleeing girl and continued to stamp slowly up and down.
Darkness overtook me in the solitude of an upper range, far from either
hut or hamlet. A half hour later, a mountain storm burst upon me.
An interminable period I had plunged on when my eyes were gradually
drawn to a faint light flickering through the downpour. I splashed
forward and banged on a door beside an illuminated window. The portal
was quickly opened from within, and I fell into a tiny wine-shop
occupied by three tipplers. They stared stupidly for some time, while
the water ran away from me in rivulets along the floor. Then the
landlord remarked with a silly grin:—
“Lei è tutto bagnato?” (You are all wet.)
“Likewise hungry,” I answered. “What’s to eat?”
“Da mangiare! Ma! Not a thing in the house.”
“The nearest inn?”
“Six miles on.”
“Suppose I must go to bed supperless, then,” I sighed, drawing my
water-soaked bundle from beneath my coat.
“Bed!” cried the landlord, “you cannot sleep here. I keep no lodging
“What!” I protested, “do you think I am going on in this deluge?”
“I keep no lodging house,” repeated the host, doggedly.
I sat down on a bench, convinced that no three Italians should evict me
without a struggle. One by one they came forward to try the efficacy of
wheedling, growling, and loud-voiced bluster. I clung stolidly to my
place. The landlord was on the verge of tears when one of the countrymen
drew me to the window and offered me lodging in his barn across the way.
I made out through the storm the dim outline of a building, and catching
up my bundle, dashed with the native across the road and into a stone
building, with no other floor, as I could feel under my feet, than
Mother Earth. An American cow would balk at the door of the house of a
mountain peasant of Italy; she would have fled bellowing at a glimpse of
the interior of the barn that loomed up as my host lighted a lantern,
and pointed out to me a heap of corn-husks in a corner behind the oxen
and asses. Fearful of losing a moment with his cronies over the wine, he
gave the lantern a shake that extinguished it and, leaving me in utter
darkness, hurried away.
I groped my way towards the heap, narrowly escaped knocking down the
last ass in the row, and was about to throw myself down on the husks
when a man’s voice at my very feet shouted a word that I did not catch.
Being in Italy I answered in Italian:
“Che avete? Voglio dormire qui.”
“Ach!” groaned the voice. “Nur ein verdammter Italiener!”
“Here friend!” I protested, in German, prodding the prostrate form with
a foot, “who are you calling verdammter?”
Before the last word had passed my lips the man in the husks sprang to
his feet with a wild shout.
“Lieber Gott!” he shrieked, clutching at my coat and dancing around me.
“Lieber Gott! Du verstehst Deutsch! You are no cursed Italian! Gott sei
dank! In three weeks I have heard no German.”
Even the asses were protesting before he ceased his shouting and settled
down to tell his troubles. He was but another of those familiar figures,
a German on his Wanderjahr, who, straying far south in the peninsula,
and losing his last copper, was struggling northward again as rapidly as
strength gained by a crust of bread or a few wayside berries each day
permitted. One needed only to touch him to know that he was thin as a
side-show skeleton. I offered him the half of a cheese I carried in a
pocket, and he snatched it with the ravenous cry of a wolf and devoured
it as we burrowed deep into the husks.
All night long the water dripped from my elbows and oozed out of my
shoes, and a bitter mountain wind swept through the unmortared building.
Morning came after little sleep, and I rose with joints so stiff that a
half hour of kneading barely put them in working order. Outside a cold
drizzle was falling, but the peasant grew surly, and, bidding farewell
to my companion of the night, I set out along the mountain highway.
Two hours beyond the barn I came upon a miserable hamlet, paused at an
even more miserable inn for a bowl of greasy water, alias soup, in which
had been drowned a lump of black bread, and plodded on in the drizzle. A
night and day of corn-husks had given me a rococo appearance that I only
half suspected before my arrival at a mountain village late in the
afternoon. It was a typical Apennine town; surrounded on all sides by
splendid scenery, but itself a crowded collection of hovels where steep,
narrow streets reeked with all the refuse of a common habitation of man
and beast. The chief enigma of Italy is to know why ostensibly sane
humans choose to house themselves in an agglomeration of stys, as near
each other as they can be stacked, the outside huts jostling and
crowding their neighbors, as if enviously waiting to catch them off
their guard, that they may push nearer to the center of the unsavory
jumble; while round about them spread great valleys and hillsides
[Illustration: Going for the water. A village north of Rome]
[Illustration: Italy is one of the most cruelly priest-ridden countries
on the globe]
Wallowing through the filth of such a hamlet, I came upon a tumble-down
hostelry of oppressive squalor. About the fire-place were huddled
several slatternly, downcast mortals. I paused in the doorway, wondering
to which to address myself. The rural innkeeper of Italy will never
speak to a new arrival until he has been accosted by the latter. I once
put the matter to the test by entering an inn at five in the afternoon
and taking a seat at one of the tables. Many a side glance was cast upon
me, many a low-toned discussion raged at the back of the room, but at
nine in the evening I was still waiting for the first greeting.
Here, then, I stood for several moments on the threshold. At length, a
misshapen female, unkempt and unsoaped to all appearances since infancy,
fumbled in her apron, rose, and stumped slowly towards me holding out—a
cent! I stepped back, and the charitable lady, misunderstanding my
gesture of protest, returned to her seat, snarling in a cracked falsetto
that beggars nowadays expected francs instead of soldi.
Disgusted at this invidious reception, I pigeon-holed my appetite and
marched on. But I seemed permanently to have taken on the aspect of an
eleemosynary appeal. Two miles beyond the village I passed a ragged
road-repairer and a boy, breaking stone at the wayside. Hard by them was
a hedge, weighed down with blackberries, to which I hastened and fell to
picking my delayed dinner. The _cantoniere_ stared a moment,
open-mouthed; laid aside his sledge, and mumbled something to the boy.
The latter left his place, wandered down the road a short distance
beyond me and idled about as if awaiting someone. With a half-filled cap
I set off again. The boy edged nearer as I approached and, brushing
against me, thrust something under my arm and ran back to the
stone-pile. In my astonishment I dropped the gift on the highway. It was
a quarter-loaf of black bread left over from the ragged workman’s
Late that night I reached a hamlet with a more energetic, if less
charitable innkeeper; and the next afternoon found me looking down upon
the vast Florentine valley, the winding Arno a bluish silver under the
declining sun. By evening I was housed in the city of Dante and Michael
During four days in Florence I played a sort of Jekyll and Hyde rôle,
living with the poorest self-supporting class, but spending hours each
day in cathedral and galleries. Paupers were everywhere in evidence,
fewer than in Venice, perhaps, for here they could escape. Lodgings all
but the utterly penniless could afford. I paid a half-franc daily for an
uncramped chamber within a hop, skip, and jump of the roasting-place of
Savonarola. But those ultracheap eating houses of the canal city were
lacking. Florentines on the ragged edge patronized instead a species of
traveling restaurant. As night fell, there appeared at various corners,
in the unwashed section of the city, men with push-carts laden with
boiled tripe. Around them gathered jostling throngs whose surging ceased
not for a moment until the last morsel had been sold. Each customer
seemed to possess but a single soldo, which he had carefully guarded
through the day in anticipation of the coming of the tripe-man. Never
did the huckster make a sale without a quarrel arising over the size of
the morsel; and never did the vendee retire until a second strip, about
the size of a match, had been added to the original portion to make up
what he claimed to be the just weight.
I spent an undue proportion of my fourth day in Florence viewing her
works of art; for Sunday is the poor man’s day in the museums and
galleries of Europe, there being no admission charged. When the throng
was driven forth from the Pitti palace in the late afternoon, I decided
not to return to my lodging and wandered off along the highway to Rome.
The mountain country continued, but the ranges were less lofty and more
thickly populated than to the north, and when night settled down, I was
within sight of a hilltop village.
It is doubtful if there is another nation on the globe whose people are
such general favorites as our own citizens. The American is a popular
fellow in almost every land, certainly not the least so in Italy.
Through all the peninsula there hovers about one, from that—to the
Italian—magic world of America, a glamor which is sure to arouse
interest to the highest pitch. More than that; there is, among the lower
classes, an attitude almost of deference towards the man in any way
connected with the El Dorado across the sea, as if every breast harbored
the vague hope that this favored of the gods might be moved to carry
home on his return a pocketful of his admirers.
Longing for America, however, does not imply any great amount of
knowledge thereof. In this northern section especially, where one rarely
meets a man whose remotest friend has emigrated, ignorance of the
western hemisphere is astonishing.
An average village crowd, showing some evidence of education, was
gathered in the hostelry of this first town beyond Florence. My arrival
at first aroused small interest in the groups before fire-place and
table. In ordering supper, however, I betrayed a foreign accent.
Immediately there passed between the cronies of the band sundry nods and
occult signs which they fondly believed were entirely incomprehensible
to a newcomer, but which, in reality, said as plainly as words:—
“Now where the deuce do you suppose he comes from?”
I volunteered no information. The cronies squirmed with curiosity.
Several more mysterious symbols flitted across the room, and one of the
tipplers, clearing his throat, suggested in the mildest of tones:—
“Hem—ah—you are German, perhaps?”
A _tedesco_ being no unusual sight in Italy, the listeners showed only a
The speaker rubbed his neck with a horny hand and turned an apologetic
eye on his fellows.
“Hah! You are an Austrian!” charged another, with a scowl.
“Swiss?” suggested a third.
Interest picked up at once. A voyager from any but these three countries
is something to attract unusual attention in wayside inns.
“Ah!” ventured a fourth member of the group, with a glance of scorn at
his more obtuse companions, “You are a Frenchman?”
The geographical knowledge of the party was exhausted. There ensued a
long, wrinkle-browed silence. The landlady wandered in with a pot,
looked me over out of a corner of her eye, and retreated slowly. The
suspense grew unendurable. A native opened his mouth twice or thrice,
swallowed his breath with a gulp, and purred, meekly:
“Er—well—what country does the signore come from?”
A chorus of exclamations aroused the cat dozing under the fire-place.
The hostess ran in, open-mouthed, from the back room. The landlord
dropped his pipe on the floor and emitted the Italian variation of “dew
tell!” The most phlegmatic of the party abandoned their games and
stories and crowded closely around me.
My advent seemed to two of the habitués to be providential. Some time
before, a wager had been laid between them which, till now, there had
seemed small chance of deciding. One man had wagered that the railway
trains of America run high up in the air above the houses, a tenet which
he sought to defend against all comers by an unprecedented amount of
lusty bellowing, and one which his opponent pooh-poohed with equal
vehemence. For a time I was at a loss to account for his claim that he
had read the information in a newspaper. In the course of his
vociferations, however, he mentioned “Nuova York,” and inquired if it
were not also true that its buildings were higher than the steeple of
the village church, and whether the railways were not thus built to
enable the people to get into such high houses; implying, evidently, his
conviction that Americans never come down to earth. Only then was the
source of his mental picture of an aërial railway system clear. He had
read somewhere of the New York Elevated and had applied the article to
the whole country.
Moreover “Nuova York” was synonymous with America to the entire party.
Not a man of them knew that there were two Americas, not one had ever
heard the term “United States.” America represents to the Italian of the
masses a country somewhere far away, how far or in what direction he has
no idea, where wages are higher than in Italy. Countless times I have
heard questions such as these from Italians who were not without
“Is America further away than Switzerland?”
“Did you walk all the way from America?”
“Who is king of America?”
“Why! Are you a native American? I thought Americans were black!”
Once a woman added insult to injury by inquiring in all sincerity:—
“In America you worship the sun, non è vero?”
On some rare occasions a wiser native appeared, to display his erudition
to the assembly. One evening I mildly suggested that the United States
as a whole is as large, if not larger, than Italy. My hearers were
deafening me with shouts of derision, when one of the party came to my
“Certainly, that’s right!” he cried, “it _is_ larger. I have a brother
in Buenos Ayres and I know. America, or the Stati Uniti, as this signore
prefers to call it, has provinces just like Italy. The provinces are
Brazil, Uruguay, República Argentina, and Nuova York.”
Squelched by which crushing display of geographical erudition, the
gathering maintained a profound silence for the rest of the evening; and
the authority on America began a lecture on that topic, in the course of
which I learned many a fact concerning my native land which I had never
One can be little surprised that the Italian fears to embark for a
country so little known. I met often with people who had set out for
America, gone as far as Genoa, and there abandoned the journey, _perché
aveva paura_. Many, indeed, journey to the seaport, never suspecting
that to reach this land of fabulous wealth they must travel on the
ocean; more than one has only the vaguest notion of what an ocean is.
When the endless expanse of water stretches out before them, all the
combined miseries of their native land and the wheedling of the most
silver-tongued steamship agent cannot induce them to trust themselves on
its billows; and in dread and fear they hurry home again.
It may be said with little danger of error, too, that the average
American knows very little of the Italian of this northern section. He
is, quite contrary to popular notions, a very kind and obliging, even
unselfish fellow, decidedly a different person from the usual immigrant
to our shores. The riffraff and off-casts of their native land, that are
spreading far and wide in our country, living in clans and bands wherein
the moving spirit seems to be he whose record at home is most
besmirched, the “dagoes” of common parlance, are no product of this
northern portion of the peninsula. We have, possibly, been too quick to
attribute to all Italians the characteristics of those undesirables with
whom we have come in contact, more than seven-eighths of whom hail from
the southern section. The Neapolitan, the Sicilian, the Sardinian, from
lands where congested districts breed characters held in as much
contempt by the Italian of the north as by our own citizens, have little
in common with the Venetian, the Florentine, and the Sienese.
There are few stretches of roadway in Italy that wind through finer
scenery than that panorama which spreads out along the highway between
Florence and Siena. The pedestrian, however, finds small opportunity to
contemplate the landscape, for his progress is beset with strange
perils. Each peasant of this section possesses a yoke of white oxen, a
bovine type indigenous to the Apennine region, the distinguishing
feature of which is the length of the horns, measuring often six and
even seven feet from tip to tip. Now meet two such beasts, yoked
together, and it is a wide highway that leaves you room to pass.
Moreover, their drivers being invariably sound asleep, the animals
wander at sweet will about the right of way, tossing their heads toward
the passer-by. When one considers that every twenty or twenty-five acres
through this territory constitutes a farm, that every farmer has his
pair of oxen, and that he does his best to lay out his work in such a
manner as to give him the greatest possible amount of time on the road,
leaving real labor to his wife and daughters, it is easily understood
that to make one’s way on foot, requires no mean amount of vigilance,
nimbleness, and endurance.
Nor is that all. On every highway of Europe the wayfarer must be always
on the alert for the sound of an automobile horn. Continental chauffeurs
have small respect for foot-travelers, and the pedestrian who does not
heed their imperative honk is quite apt to come into collision with a
touring-car moving at its highest rate of speed. Now the first note of
protest of an over-burdened ass bears a similarity to the toot of an
automobile horn that can scarcely be accounted for under the head of
coincidences. Moreover, the time ensuing between the first and second
notes is quite long enough for a car to shoot around a corner, send the
unobserving wanderer skyward, and disappear into the gasoline-saturated
Beyond. In consequence, my journey from Florence to Siena was no
pleasure stroll; for when I was not vaulting roadside hedges before
oncoming oxen, I was crouching on the edge of the highway, peering
anxiously round a turn of the route until a second asinine vocable broke
on my ear.
He who would obtain an exact idea of the ensemble of the city of Siena
has but to dump a spoonful of sugar on a well-heaped dish of rice. Some
of the grains remain at the very top of the heap, others cling
tenaciously to the sides as if fearful of falling to the bottom into the
dish itself. For rice, read a rocky hill; for sugar, houses; for dish, a
broad, fertile valley in which space is unlimited, and the visualization
of Siena is complete. Except in that small quarter on the flat summit of
the hill it is one of those up-and-down towns in which streets should be
fitted with ladders; where every householder is in imminent danger, each
time he steps out of doors, of falling into the next block, should he
inadvertently lose his grip on the façade of his dwelling. I scaled the
city without being reduced to the indignity of making the ascent on
hands and knees; but more than once I kept my place only by clutching at
the flanking buildings.
How little the knowledge of the world among the masses of Italy has
increased, since the days of Columbus, was suggested during my evening
in the perennial inn at the summit of the town. Engaged in a game of
“dama” (checkers) with the innkeeper’s small daughter, I strove at the
same time to satisfy the curiosity of the host himself and a band of
strolling musicians, of whom a blind youth accompanied both game and
conversation on a soft-voiced violin.
“When you go to America,” asked the innkeeper, pointing out a move to my
opponent, “you get clear out of sight of land, non è vero?”
I admitted that such experiences were common.
“Ah, I once thought of going to America,” he cried, turning to impress
upon the attentive audience his fearlessness in having dared to conceive
so intrepid a venture, “until they told me that. But you wouldn’t catch
_me_ on a boat that went clear out of sight of land. I don’t mind a trip
from Genoa to Naples, or even to Bastia, where you always have the coast
alongside; but when you leave the land and jump out into the universe,
steering by the stars and going—La Santissima Vergine knows where—ah,
not for me! Why, suppose the captain loses his way when the stars move?
You come to the edge of the world and over you go. Ugh!”
The audience shuddered in sympathy, and the blind youth drew forth from
his instrument a wail such as might have risen from the victims of so
dreadful a fate.
By the time a new topic had been broached the hostess wandered in and
sat down before the register in which I had written my autobiography.
Her eyes fell on the figures indicating my age.
“Aha!” she cried, jabbing the number with a stubby forefinger and
winking good-humoredly, “soldiering _is_ hard work, to be sure. I don’t
blame you a bit. Officers _are_ hard masters.”
I had too often been accused of running away to escape military service
to be at all put out by this familiar accusation.
“Many a boy I know,” went on the woman, “has run away to America just
before he reached his majority and the beginning of his three years in
the army. How strange you Americans should fly over here to Italy for
the same reason!”
“You bet _I_ don’t blame them,” growled the innkeeper.
“But military service is not required in America,” I protested.
“Eh!” cried my hearers, in chorus.
“We don’t have to be soldiers in America,” I repeated.
“What!” shouted the host, “you have no army?”
“Yes; but the soldiers are hired, as for any other trade.”
“But who makes them go?” demanded the blind musician.
“No one. They are paid to go.”
The audience puzzled for several moments over this strange arrangement.
Suddenly the landlady burst out laughing.
“You think to fool us!” she cried. “How, if nobody makes them go, can
there be soldiers to pay?”
“Aye! That’s it!” roared the host.
“They want to go,” I explained.
“Want to be soldiers!” bellowed the innkeeper. “What nonsense! Who wants
to be a soldier and work three years for nothing?”
“But you don’t understand. Those who want to be soldiers are paid
“Ah!” cried the musician, with a sudden burst of inspiration, “when your
name is drawn, you pay a man to go for you?”
“No; the government pays him. Our names are not drawn.”
“How much money the king must spend, paying all the soldiers,” mused my
“Ah! They are a strange people, the Americans,” sighed the host, and he
cast upon me a glance that seemed to say, “and liars, too, very often.”
[Illustration: Selling the famous long-horned cattle of Siena outside
[Illustration: Italian peasants returning from market-day in the
Weeks before, I had given up all hope of making clear to Italians our
military system. The institution of compulsory service has been so woven
into their picture of life since infancy that barely a man of them has
the power of imagining an existence without this omnipresent fate
hanging over his head. Whatever may be the attitude of the educated
Italian towards it, military service is regarded by the laboring class
as a curse from which there is no escape. We are accustomed to say that
nothing is sure but death and taxes. The Italian would include
Two days after leaving Siena, I turned out in the early morning from
Viterbo, just fifty miles north of Rome. Strange to say, in measure as I
approached the capital the less inhabited became the countryside. For
hours beyond Viterbo the highway wound over low mountains between
whispering forests, in utter solitude. Where the woods ended, stretched
many another weary mile with never a hut by the wayside. Only an
occasional shepherd, clad in sheepskins, sat among his flocks on a
hillside, and gave life to a landscape that suggested the wilds of
Wyoming or the vast steppes of Siberia.
The sun was touching the western horizon as I traversed a rugged
village, but with Rome so close at hand I pressed on. The hamlet,
however, appeared to be the last habitation of man along the highway.
The sun sank in an endless morass, amid the whispering of great fields
of reeds and grasses, and the dismal croaking of frogs. Twilight faded
to black night. Far off, ahead, the reflection of the Eternal City
lighted up the sky; yet hours of tramping seemed to bring the glow not a
Forty-one miles I had covered when three hovels rose up by the wayside.
One was an inn, but the keeper growled out some protest and slammed the
door in my face. I took refuge and broke an all-day fast in a wine-shop
patronized by traveling teamsters, one of whom offered me a bed on his
load of straw in the adjoining stable.
He rose at daybreak, and for the first few miles the dawdling pace of
his mules was fully fast enough for my maltreated legs. Little by little
I forged ahead. The deserted highway led across a bleak moorland,
rounded a slight eminence, and brought me face to face with the once
center of the civilized world.
To the right and left, on low hills, stood large modern buildings, from
which the mass of houses sloped down and covered the intervening plains,
broken only by the Tiber winding its way through the dull, grey stretch
of habitations. Here and there a dome or steeple reflected the morning
sun, but towering high above the mass, dwarfing all else by comparison,
stood the vast dome of St. Peter’s. Close before me began an unbroken
suburb on both sides of the route; suggesting that the modern Roman
builds only as far from the center of the city as his view of it remains
unimpaired. Countless multitudes have caught their first glimpse of Rome
from this low hilltop. Before the days of railways, pilgrims journeyed
from Civita Vecchia, on the coast, by this same road—millions of them on
foot, and entered the city by this massive western gateway. Through the
portal poured a steady stream of peasants, on wagons, carts, donkeys,
and afoot, checked by officers of the octroi, who ran long lances
through bales and baskets of farm produce. I joined the surging bedlam
and was swept within the walls.
Early that afternoon I made my way across the Tiber and through the
narrow streets of the Borgo to the square before St. Peter’s. About the
papal residence the carriages of le beau monde kept up continual
procession. I threaded my way towards the entrance to the Vatican
galleries, though with little hope that one who had been taken for a
beggar in the miserable villages of the Apennines could get beyond the
door. At the base of the stairway a Swiss guard, resplendent in that red
and yellow uniform which Michael Angelo is accused of having
perpetrated, raised his javelin and accosted me in German:—
“Sorry, Landsmann, but the galleries are just closing; it is one
Taking the speech as a polite way of saying that tramps were not
admitted, I turned away. Another glance, however, showed that visitors
really were leaving, and a “hist” from behind called me back. The guard,
glancing around to see if he were observed by the other servants of the
Holy Father, leaned on his lance and inquired in a low voice:—
“How’s business on the road these days?”
He had, it turned out, once been a penniless wanderer in nearly every
corner of the continent. For some time we chatted in the jargon of “the
road,” that language made up of a mixture of slang and gestures that one
can learn only by tramping the highways of Europe. The guard smiled
reminiscently at each mention of the rendezvous of vagrants to the
north, and, having heard such bits of news from the field of action as I
could give him, carefully outlined for me the various “grafts” of the
Roman fraternity. A companion in office called to him from the top of
the steps and he hurried away with the parting injunction:—
“Come to-morrow, mein Lieber, early, if you want to see the galleries.”
When I had inspected the interior of St. Peter’s I sought out the
rendezvous to which the guard had directed me. A dozen birds of passage
around the wine-tables greeted my entrance in several languages:—
“Ha! En voilà un de plus!”
“Woher, Landsmann? Was gibt’s neues?”
“Y que tal la carretera, hombre?”
“Madre di dio, amico, che fa caldo! Vuoi bere?”
I sipped the glass of wine offered by the Italian—to have drunk it all
would have been “bad form”—and sat down to give an account of myself.
“Aber du bist kein Deutscher?” cried a grizzled vagabond, when I had
“Amerikaner,” I replied.
“American!” shouted the band, in a chorus in which European tongues ran
riot, “Why, there is another American knocking about town. He’ll drop in
before long; meanwhile, have a drink.”
I waited impatiently, for months had passed since I had spoken with a
fellow countryman. In the course of a half-hour there strolled in a
swarthy specimen of the genus vagabundus, attired in a ragged misfit.
“Ach! Du Amerikaner!” cried the chorus. “Here is a countryman of yours.”
I accosted the newcomer. “How are you, Jack?”
He took place on a bench, stared at me a moment, and demanded, in
“What country are you from?”
“Dei Stati Uniti,” I replied. “But they told me you were an American,
“Certainly I am an American!” he shouted, indignantly. “I come from
It had been my custom to ramble at random through the cities of Europe,
visiting the points of special interest as I chanced upon them. The
topography of Rome, however, is not of the simplest, and, having picked
up a guidebook for a few soldi in a second-hand stall, I set out
dutifully to follow its lead through the city. It was a work in Italian,
published for the use of Roman Catholic pilgrims. For two days it led me
a merry chase among the churches and chapels of Rome, calling attention
here to the statue of a saint, the bronze foot of which had been kissed
into a shapeless mass by devout _pellegrini_; there to a shrine in which
was enclosed the second bone of the third finger of the right hand of
some martyr or pope, or a splinter of the true cross that had
miraculously found its way to Rome. But as I hurried from chapel to
church and from church to chapel I became suspicious of the profound
silence of the book’s author, a Father Guiseppe Somebody, on the subject
of the monuments of ancient Rome. Having therein more interest than in
martyrs’ bones and kissed statues, I sat down on the steps of the
forty-ninth church, and turned over the leaves in search of reference to
the old-time edifices. Page after page the nomenclature of churches and
chapels continued, interspersed with descriptions of more finger-bones
and splinters; but, up to the last leaf, not a word of ante-Christian
Rome and its ruins. On the final page, in a footnote, the devout author
expressed himself as follows:—
“There are in Rome, besides all the blessed relics and holy places we
have pointed out to the pilgrim, certain ruins and monuments of the days
previous to the coming of Our Holy Saviour. The Faithful, however, will
take care not to defile themselves by visiting these remnants of unholy
pagan and heathen Rome.”
I sold the “Pilgrims’ Guide” for the price of a bottle of wine and set
out to explore the city after my own fashion.
Cæsar, for some reason, has not seen fit to inform posterity whether he
patronized the “Colosseum Tonsorial Parlors,” or carried his own razor.
If he sallied forth for his daily scrape, times were different then;
for, had the conqueror of the Gauls had at hand such barbers as modern
Rome harbors he would certainly have turned Vercingetorix over to their
tender mercies instead of subjecting him to the mild punishment of an
There was a shop not far from the wayfarers’ retreat in the Borgo.
Recalling painful experiences elsewhere in the peninsula, I avoided it
as long as possible, but there came a day when I must sneak inside and
take a seat. That, to begin with, was a mere chair, a decidedly rickety
one that squeaked and writhed under me as if afraid, like myself, of the
scowling proprietor, who stropped his razor in the far corner. By and by
he laid the weapon aside, and picking up a small milk-pan, retreated to
the back of the room. The only mirror in the establishment being some
five inches square, there was no means of knowing what game he indulged
in during a prolonged absence.
I had all but fallen asleep, stretched like a suspension bridge between
the chair and the wooden box that did duty as foot-rest, when the
barber, approaching stealthily, slapped me suddenly and emphatically on
the point of the chin with the brush of a defunct or bankrupt
billposter. The blow was nothing compared with the temperature of the
splash of lather that accompanied it. The cold chills set the ends of my
toes tingling. There ensued a lathering of which no American so
fortunate as to have spent all his days in the land of his first
milk-bottle can form a conception. From ear to ear, from Adam’s apple
well up my nostrils, that icy lather was slapped and rubbed in with the
paste-brush and the rasp-like palm of the manipulator, until my first
notion that this thorough soaping was to lighten the work with the razor
was succeeded by the fear that my torturer had decided to dispense with
that instrument entirely. When he had covered all my face but one eye,
the barber laid aside his brush, strolled to the door, and stood with
his arms akimbo, evidently to give his biceps time to recover from their
A fellow-townsman sauntered by, and the two fell into a discussion that
involved, not the batting averages of the major league, but the advance
of a half-cent a liter in the price of wine. The lye on my face began to
draw and tingle, the chair groaned under me, and still the dispute raged
at the door. Fortunately, the townsman was called away before it was
settled. The barber gazed after his retreating form, hummed an opera air
in sotto voce, and glanced at the sky for signs of a storm. Then he
turned slowly around, stared frowningly at me for several moments in an
effort to recall how a man all soaped and ready for the razor had gotten
into his establishment, and, with a sigh of regret at the task before
him, hunted up the razor, stropped it again as if it had lain unused for
six months, and fell to. A hack at one side of my face razed at least a
dozen hairs. The torturer changed his mind concerning the point of
attack and transferred his efforts to the other side—with no gratifying
success, however. He began once more, this time at the point of the
chin, worked his way upward by a series of cuts and slashes, and, having
removed from my face most of the skin, a fair share of the lather, and
even some of the stubble, stepped back to survey his handiwork.
“Here, you’re not finished!” I cried, pointing to my upper lip.
“What! Shave your lip?”
“Because I want it shaved.”
“Santissima Madonna!” he gasped, making several passes before a chromo
print of the Virgin on the back wall. “Here is a man who wants the upper
lip of a woman!”
However, having called the Lady’s attention to his innocence, he shaved
the lip and relieved an anxiety under which I had labored since entering
the shop. For, many a barber of Italy had refused point-blank to
undertake any such unprecedented defilement of the human face, and
driven me forth with a nascent moustache in spite of my protests.
Nearly a week after my arrival in the capital I turned southward again,
on the highway to Naples. For three days the route led through a
territory packed with ragged, half-starved people, who toiled
incessantly from the first peep of the sun to the last waver of
twilight, and crawled away into some foul hole during the hours of
darkness. The inhabitants of this famished section bore little
resemblance to the people of the north. Shopkeepers snarled at their
customers, the “shortchange racket” was always in evidence, false coins
of the smallest denomination abounded—fancy “shoving the queer” with
nickels—and, had not my appearance been quite in keeping with that of
the natives, I should certainly have won the attention of those who live
There were other difficulties unknown in the north. The language changed
rapidly. The literary tongue, spoken in Florence and Siena, was almost
foreign here. A word learned in one hamlet was incomprehensible in
another a half-day distant. The villages, almost without exception, were
perched at the summits of the most inaccessible hills, up which each
day’s walk ended with a weary climb by steep paths of rubble that rolled
I found lodging at the wayside only on my fourth day out of Rome, in a
building that was one-fourth inn and three-fourths stable. The keeper,
his wife, and a litter of children had scarcely enough wardrobe between
them to have completely clothed the smallest urchin. All were
barefooted, their feet spread out nearly as wide as they were long, the
thick callous of the soles split and cracked up the sides like the hoofs
of horses that had long gone unshod. The wife and several of her brood
lay on a heap of chaff in a corner of the room reserved for humans. The
father sat on a stool, bouncing the _bambino_ up and down on his
unspeakable feet; another child squatted on the top of the four-legged
board that served as table and, in awe of the new arrival, alternately
handled his toes and thrust his fingers in his mouth.
“You have lodgings for travelers?” I inquired.
“Yes,” growled the proprietor.
“How much for a bed?”
I was skeptical and demanded to see the lodging that could be had at
such a price.
“Giovanni!” bawled the head of the charming band, “bring in the bed!”
A moth-eaten youth threw open the back door and fired at my feet a dirty
grain-sack, filled with crumpled straw that peeped out here and there.
When I had smoked a final pipe, the father bawled once more to his
first-born and motioned to me to take up my bed and walk. I followed the
youth across a stable yard towards a wing of the building, picking my
way between the heaps of offal by the light of the feeble torch he
carried. Giovanni waded inside, pointed out to me a long, narrow manger
of slats, and fled, leaving me alone with the problem of how to repose
nearly six feet of body on three feet of stuffed grain-sack. I tried
every combination that ingenuity and some not entirely different
experiences could suggest, but concluded at last to sleep on the bare
slats and use the sack as a pillow.
I had just begun to doze, when an outer door opened and let in a great
draught of night air, closely followed by a flock of sheep that quickly
filled the stable to overflowing. Some of the animals attempted to
overflow into the manger, sprang back when they found it already
occupied, and made known their discovery to their companions by a long
series of “baas.” The information awakened a truly Italian curiosity.
The sheep organized a procession and the whole band filed by the manger,
every animal poking its nose through the slats for a sniff. This
formality over, each of the flock expressed a personal opinion of my
presence in trembling, nerve-racking bleats, which discussion had by no
means ended, when the youth came to inform me that it was morning and
carried off my bed, fearful, no doubt, of my absconding with that
In spite of the bruises on the salient points of my anatomy, I plodded
on at a good pace, hoping, with this early start, to reach Naples before
the day was done. Two pairs of gendarmes, who halted me for long
interviews, made the attempt useless, however; and I was still in the
country when the gloom, settling down like fog, drove into the highway
bands of fatigued humans and four-footed beasts, toiling homeward. The
route descended, the intervening fields between squalid villages grew
shorter and shorter, finally giving way entirely to an unbroken row of
stone houses that shut in the highway. The bands of homing peasants
increased to a stream of humanity against which I struggled to make my
Swept into the backwater of the human current, I cornered a workman and
inquired for Naples.
“Napoli! Ma! _This_ is Napoli!” he bellowed, shoving me aside.
I plunged on, certain that a descending road must lead to the harbor and
its sailors’ lodgings. Ragged, sullen-visaged laborers, now and then an
unsoaped female, swept against me. Donkeys laden and unladen protested
against the goads of their cursing masters. Heavy ox-carts, massive
wagons, an occasional horseman, fought their way up the acclivity, amid
a bedlam of shrill shouts, roaring oaths, the strident yee-hawing of
asses, the rumble of wheels on cobblestones, the snap of whips, the
resounding whack of cudgels; and before and behind a bawling multitude
filled the scene that resembled nothing more nearly than the hurried
flight of its diabolical inhabitants from that inferno which the
Florentine has pictured. It was long after my first inquiry for “Napoli”
that I reached level streets and was dragged into a dismal hovel by a
boarding-house runner. Fifty-five days had passed since my departure
from Paris, thirty-four of which had been spent in walking.
If there is a spot of similar size in the civilized world that houses
more rascals, knaves, and degenerates than Naples, it has successfully
hidden its iniquities. The struggle for existence in this densely packed
section of the peninsula has driven its lower classes in one of two
directions: they have become stolid, unthinking brutes or incorrigible
rogues. Even those who, by day, are employed at professions considered
honorable and remunerative among us, spend their nights and idle hours
as agents of every species of business and deception to be found in
congested centers. Every steamship office, every restaurant, every
hotel, shop, gambling den, or house of prostitution has its scores of
“runners” to entice the stranger or unwary citizen within its doors. We
have “runners” in America, but these procurers that fight for a meager
percentage in Naples are not merely the dregs of city life; even the man
who has left his telegraph instrument or bookkeeper’s stool during the
afternoon prowls through the dark streets in quest of a stray soldo. The
barber roams at large to drag into his shop those whose faces show need
of his services; the merchant stands before his door and bawls and
beckons to the passing throng like a side-show barker; the ticket-agent
tramps up and down the wharves striving to sell passage, at regular
price if necessary; at an exorbitant one if possible. To cheat is second
nature to the Neapolitan of the masses. He cheats his playmates as a
boy, cheats the shopkeeper at every opportunity, enters business as a
man intending to cheat, and sticks to that intention with a persistence
worthy a better cause to the end of his days—to be cheated by the
undertaker and the priest at the finale of his life of deception and
fraud. Yet this same Naples, corrupt, Machiavelian, is, with its
environs, the breeding-ground of the vast majority of Italians who
emigrate to America.
As is usual among poverty-stricken people, gambling is the principal
vice of the southern Italian. Cards and dice are not unknown, but the
game that is dearest to the heart of the Neapolitan is _mora_, the
counting of fingers. The sharp call of “cinque! tre! otto! tre! dieci!”
raised a never-ending hubbub in my lodging house. The sums of money
hazarded were not fabulous; but had there been fortunes at stake the
game could not have been more fiercely contended. Each player, at the
beginning of the contest, jabbed his sheath-knife into the bottom of the
table within easy reach of his hand, and at every dispute waved it
threateningly above his head. A quarrel, one evening, went beyond the
point of vociferations. One player emerged from the contest with a slash
from nose to chin, and another with an ugly cut in the abdomen. But so
ordinary an occurrence was this in the house that a half-hour later the
game was raging as loudly as before.
One fine morning, soon after my arrival in Naples, I awoke to find
myself the possessor of just twenty francs. Thus far I had been a
tourist; for, if I had spent sparingly, I had given my attention to
sightseeing rather than to searching for employment. Having squandered
in un-riotous living the money intended for photographing, the time had
come when I must earn both the living and the photographs.
It had been my intention to ship as a sailor from Naples to some point
of the near east. The cosmopolitan dock loafers assured me, however,
that there was but one port on the Mediterranean in which I might hope
to sign on, and that was Marseilles. The information had come too late,
for the fare to Marseilles as a deck passenger—and that included no food
en route—was twenty-five francs. To be left stranded in Naples, however,
was a fate to be dreaded. I determined to take passage as far as
possible, namely, to Genoa, and to make my way as best I could from
there to the great French port.
By playing rival runners against each other, I reduced the regular fare
of twelve francs to nine francs and a cigar, the stogie being the
commission of the runner. With a day left at my disposal I ruined my
misused shoes among the lava-beds of Vesuvius, slept on a park bench to
save the price of a lodging, and was rowed out to the _Lederer Sandor_,
a miserable cargo-steamer hailing from Trieste. She did not sail until a
full twenty-four hours after the time set, and my stock of bread and
dried codfish gave out while we were but halfway to Genoa. I had noted,
however, that, the ship’s business being chiefly the carrying of
freight, little watch was kept on the passengers. Upon arrival in the
birthplace of Columbus, therefore, I purchased a second stock of
provisions and returned on board, for it was cheaper to hire a boatman
to row me out to the ship than to pay lodgings in the city. Among a
score of through passengers my presence on board attracted no attention
and, knowing that the Sandor was to continue along the Riviera, I was
still seated on one of her hatches when she sailed out of Genoa at noon.
We cast anchor next morning at St. Maurizio and, in the early afternoon,
steamed on towards Nice. As we slipped by gleaming Monte Carlo, and I
was beginning to congratulate myself on having made my way thus far in
spite of a flat purse, the first mate, a native of Trieste, sought me
out on deck.
“What is your name?” he asked, in Italian, waving in his hand a bundle
of tickets, each of which bore the signature of its purchaser.
Plainly my ruse was discovered; but, hoping to confuse the discoverer, I
answered in English. But to no avail. For this young man, who swore at
the sailors in German and cursed longshoremen impartially in Italian and
French, spoke English almost without an accent. I had barely mentioned
my name when he burst out in my own tongue:—
“What are you doing on board? Your ticket is only to Genoa.”
“Yes!” I stammered, “but I want to get to Marseilles and I haven’t the
“No fault of ours, is it?” demanded the officer. “Your ticket reads
Genoa. You will have to pay the price from Genoa to Nice.”
“Haven’t got the half of it,” I protested.
The mate stared at me a moment in silence and hurried away to attend to
more pressing affairs. Whether he forgot my existence purposely or by
accident, I know not; he was busy on the bridge until our arrival at
Nice and, by dropping over the bow to the wharf as dusk fell, I dodged
the vigilant eyes of both ship and custom officers and hurried away,
once more in “la belle France.”
[Illustration: Italian peasants returning from the vineyards to the
[Illustration: A factory of red roof-tiles near Naples. The girl works
from daylight to dark for sixteen cents]
I rose next morning with a one-franc piece in silver and a five-franc
note, both in Italian currency. The silver passed as readily as a French
coin and, fancying the paper would be as eagerly accepted, I did not
trouble to change it into coin of the republic before setting out on the
hundred and fifty mile tramp to Marseilles. The last sou of the silver
piece had been spent when I arrived at Cannes in the evening. I turned
in at an auberge of the famous spa and tendered an Italian note in
payment for a lodging.
“Non d’un chien! We don’t take Italian paper!” cried the aubergiste,
with great vehemence. “Ça ne vaut rien du tout.”
I visited several other inns and such shops as were still open, but the
note I could not pass, even at a discount. I found myself in the
paradoxical situation of being penniless with money in my pocket. A
chill wind blew in from the Mediterranean. I sat down on a step out of
range of the village lights, but soon fell to shivering and rose to
wander on. Down on the sandy beach in front of the principal street were
drawn up several rowboats. I peered from behind the nearest building
until the two officers who patroled the water front had reached the far
end of their beats and, scurrying down to the beach, dropped into the
shadow of the first skiff. Most of the boats were tightly covered with
boards or tarpaulins but, creeping on hands and knees from one to
another, I found two with coverings that had openings in them large
enough to admit a lean and hungry mortal. In the first into which I
thrust my head I made out the forms of two gamins, sound asleep. The
second was uninhabited. I squirmed my way in and found inside a bed of
dirty, but warm reed mats.
Scarcely had I fallen asleep when I was awakened by the chatter of
hoarse voices and looked up to see an angry face peering at me through
“Eh! Dis donc, toi!” growled the possessor of the face. “Qu’est-ce que
tu fais dans mon lit?”
“Ton lit,” I answered, sleepily. “If I got here first, how does it come
to be your bed?”
“Hein!” snarled the face. “Ç ’a été mon coucher ces trois mois. Bouge
toi de là, sinon—” and he drew a finger suggestively across his throat.
At this display of emotion one of his companions outside pulled the
speaker away and thrust his own face in at the opening.
“Mais, dis donc, mon vieux!” he murmured. “You don’t mean to rob three
poor devils of the bed they have slept in for weeks, quoi?”
I admitted the injustice of such action and crawled out to join the
three crouching figures in the shadow of the craft.
“Where do you come from?” whispered one of them.
“From Nice. I am on the road.”
“Quoi!” cried the three, in suppressed chorus, “on the road! Then why
don’t you go to the gendarmerie?” and they pointed away across the beach
to a lighted window.
“They’ll give you a bed for three nights,” went on one of the trio;
“we’ve been stowed away there as many times as the law allows or we
wouldn’t make our nests here.”
I crouched out of sight until the patrol had passed once more and dashed
across the sand towards the lighted window. A door stood ajar; inside,
an officer, armed in a way more fitting to a chief of brigands than to
the guardian of a peaceful watering-place, leaned back in his chair,
puffing at a long Italian cigar.
“Bien! Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?” he demanded, laying the stogie on the table
edge and surveying me leisurely from head to foot.
I waved the five-franc piece in the air. “I’m a sailor, walking to
Marseilles, and the innkeepers won’t accept this.”
“Ça!” he cried contemptuously, after examining the bill under the light;
“Why, that’s Italian. No good at all! Why do you come to the gendarmerie
so late? We can’t let vagabonds into the Asile de Nuit at this hour.”
“The Asile de Nuit!” I protested. “I’m not looking for the Asile, but
for an inn; and I don’t see that I’m a vagabond, with a five-franc
“That’s no good,” he finished, “perhaps not, legally, but—Where are your
I handed over the consular letter and the cattle-boat discharge. The
officer studied them a moment as if English were not unknown to him and
fell into a reverie.
“American, eh?” he mused, when his dream had ended; “Sailor? Hum! Well,
go sit out in the hall until I am relieved and I’ll take you to the
I sat down against the wall on the flagstone of the entry and fell into
a doze from which I was awakened by the entrance of another gendarme, in
full armament like his colleague. The latter stepped out a moment later,
growled a “viens,” and hurried off through the deserted streets, his
sword rattling noisily on the pavement in the silence of the night. I
marched close at his heels, wondering what was in store for me; for,
though I had often heard roadsters mention the vagabond quarters which
every city of France maintains, I knew nothing of the institutions at
Five minutes’ walk brought us to a small brick building, at the door of
which the gendarme drew out a bunch of gigantic keys and entered. The
first door led into a hallway along which the officer walked some ten
feet and, with more rattling of keys, opened a second that led into
nothing, so far as I could see, but Stygian darkness.
“Voilà!” he shouted, pushing me past him through the door; “Te voilà à
l’Asile de Nuit.”
“But where do I sleep?” I demanded. The darkness was absolute and, at my
first step inside the door, I bumped against what appeared to be the
edge of a heavy table.
“Hein! Diable! Sleep on the shelf,” snapped the gendarme; then,
comprehending that I was unfamiliar with the architectural arrangements
of an Asile de Nuit, he struck a match and by its brief flicker I caught
a glimpse of the night asylum of Cannes.
It was a room about twenty feet long and seven wide, with a single,
strong-barred window at the end facing the street. The entire length of
the room ran a sloping wooden shelf, six feet wide and some four feet
above the floor at the highest edge, with an alleyway a foot wide
between it and the wall behind me. The ledge was occupied by about
fifteen as sorry specimens of humanity as it had as yet been my lot to
see in one collection. They were packed like spoons, with nothing
between their bodies and the twenty-foot bed but their own rags; and
each of the fifteen braced his feet against a board projecting some four
inches above the lower end of the shelf as if his life depended on
keeping in that position.
As the wavering light of the match fell on their faces, a chorus of
surly growls burst from the lips of the speakers, and increased to
shouts and curses when the gendarme crowded a knee between two of the
prostrate forms and exerted his strength to push more closely together
the two divisions of the company thus formed.
“Sacré bleu, vous!” he bellowed. “Bougez vous, donc! Here ’s a comrade.
Do you want all the Asile to yourselves, non de Dieu!” “Crowd in there,”
he commanded, pushing me towards the six-inch space which he had opened
between two of the sleepers. I crowded in, as per order, but did not
succeed in widening the space to any appreciable extent. The gendarme
went out, slammed and locked both doors, and left me to listen to the
growls and oaths that by no means decreased at his exit. The planks, for
all I know, may have been soft enough; with all my struggling I could
not force the slumberers far enough apart to reach the shelf; and I
spent the night lying with one shoulder and one hip on each of my
nearest companions, who alternated in turning over and pushing me back
and forth between them like a piece of storm-tossed wreckage on the open
The king of theatrical costumers, striving to dress unconventionally the
beggar chorus of a comic opera, could have created nothing to equal the
garments of the gathering of tramps from the four corners of Europe that
slid off the shelf with the advent of daylight, and fell to brushing and
rearranging their rags as if some improvement in appearance could result
from such industry. Instinct is so strong in man that, were his only
covering a fig-leaf, he would doubtless give it a shake and a pull upon
arising, if only in memory of days when his attire was less abbreviated.
I rubbed my eyes and waited for some of my companions to make the first
move towards the door. But their toilet finished, they sat down one by
one on the edge of the shelf as if the desire to get outside the
building was the furthest from their thoughts, and fell to exchanging
their troubles in at least four languages.
I rose and, climbing over a forest of legs to the door, grasped the knob
and was about to give it a yank, when the exit of the officer the night
before, with the clang of heavy bolts shot home, came back to memory. I
sat down again with the others, and following their example, filled my
pipe, as the only consolation left me. Nor was one of these outcasts,
who told of days of fasting and the bitter pangs of hunger, without his
supply of the soothing weed.
Traffic was already beginning in the street outside. Now and then some
facetious passer-by stopped to peer through the bars at us and to sneer:
“Bah! Messieurs les vagabonds. Sales bêtes!” Others carried their
jocosity so far as to toss pebbles and clods of earth in through the
grating; to which treatment my companions in misery were powerless to
reply, except by spitting out viciously at their tormentors and
promising them a summary vengeance when once they were released.
An hour after daylight a gendarme came to unlock the doors. I pushed out
with the rest and set off in the direction of Marseilles. I had not gone
five paces, however, when I heard a shout behind me:
“Eh, toi! Où est-ce que tu vas comme ça?”
I turned around in surprise.
“Come along here, you,” roared the officer, and with the rest I filed
back to the gendarmerie, the butt of the derisive grimaces of passing
At headquarters each of us was registered again, as we had been the
night before, after which we were permitted to go our several ways.
There was no means of changing my wealth into French coin until the
banks opened, two hours later. Scorning to delay so long, I turned away
breakfastless to the westward, convinced that some village banker would
come to my assistance by the time France was wide awake. But at high
noon I was still plodding on, dizzy with hunger and the fatigue of
climbing a low, uninhabited spur of the Alps that stretches down to the
Mediterranean west of Cannes, with that infernal Italian note still in
my pocket. At four in the afternoon I reached the village of Fréjus. A
merchant, whom I ran to earth after a long search, agreed to accept the
likeness of Vittore Emanuele at a half-franc discount; and I sat down on
the village green with an armful of bread and dried herring—my first
meal in twenty-eight hours.
I paid, that night, for a flea-bitten lodging in Le Puget, but concluded
next day that the three francs remaining could be better invested in
food than in sleeping-quarters. When darkness again overtook me,
therefore, I applied for accommodations at the gendarmerie of Cuers. The
village was too small to boast an Asile de Nuit, but after long argument
I induced the rustic in charge of the town hall to allow me to occupy
the solitary cell which the hamlet reserved for the incarceration of its
felons. It was a three-cornered hole under the stairway leading to the
upper story, and I spent the night in durance vile; for the rustic, for
some reason unknown, insisted on locking me in.
Next day I pressed steadily onward through a hungry Sunday of pouring
rain, the mud of the highway oozing in through the expanding holes of my
dilapidated shoes. From time to time a facetious innkeeper peered out
through the downpour to shout: “Hé donc, toi! You don’t know it’s
raining, perhaps?” But bent on reaching Marseilles before my last
coppers had been scattered, I dared not linger to give answer.
Late Sunday evening is an inconvenient hour to look for the municipal
officers of an unimportant French village. Back of the central _place_
of Le Beausset I found the hôtel de ville, a decrepit, one-story
building; but I knocked at the back door, the entrée des vagabonds, for
some time in vain. A passing villager advised me to “go right in.” I
opened the door accordingly and stepped inside, only to be driven out
again by a series of feminine shrieks before I had an opportunity to
make out, in a badly-lighted kitchen, the exact source of the uproar. I
sat down in the rain outside the door that had been slammed and bolted
behind me and waited.
When the last café had ceased its shouting, another villager, half in
uniform, pushed past me and knocked for admittance. Certain that he was
a gendarme, I followed him inside. At the back of the room, over a stove
from which rose tantalizing odors, stood two women who, catching sight
of me, deluged the officer with a flood of words.
“Here, mon vieux,” he snapped, whirling upon me, “what do you mean by
marching into my house and frightening my women out of their wits?”
I excused my conduct on the ground of advice too hastily taken. The
gendarme scowled over my papers, tucked them away in a greasy cupboard
behind the stove, and turned with me out into the night. The Asile was
not far distant, and it was unoccupied. The officer set a candle-end on
a beam and, bidding me not to set the place on fire and to exchange the
key for my papers in the morning, departed. I burrowed deep into the
straw with which the shelf was covered and fell to sleep in my
Short rations and plank beds had left me in no condition to cover in a
single day the thirty-five miles between Le Beausset and Marseilles. I
found my legs giving way when darkness caught me some distance from the
harbor and, having no hope of finding a better lodging, sat down against
a tree on an outer boulevard. A bitter wind blew, for it was the last
day of October and well north of Naples. In the far west of my own
country, however, I had learned a trick of great value “on the road.” It
is, that a coat thrown over the head is far more protection while
sleeping out of doors than when worn in the usual manner. I was,
therefore, unmolested as long as the night lasted, no doubt because
passers-by saw in my huddled form only a grain-sack dropped by the