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KEUROPEAN guides know about enough English to tangle everything
up so that a man can make neither head nor tail of it. They know their story by heart,—the history of every statue, painting, cathedral, or other wonder they show you. They know it and tell it
as a parrot would,—and if you interrupt, and throw them off the track, they have to go back and begin over again. All their lives long they are employed in showiny strange things to foreigners and listening to their bursts of admiration.
It is human nature to take delight in exciting admiration. It is what prompts children to say “smart” things, and do absurd ones, and in other ways “show off" when company is present. It is what makes gossips turn out in rain and storm to go and be the first to tell a startling bit of news. Think, then, what a passion it becomes with a guide, whose privilege it is, every day, to show to strangers wonders that throw them into perfect ecstacies of admiration! He gets so that he could not by any possibility live in a soberer atmosphere.
After we discovered this, we never went into ecstacies any more, -we never admired anything,—we never showed any but impassible faces and stupid indifference in the face of the sublimest wonders a guide had to display. We had found their weak point. We have made good use of it ever since. We have made some of those people savage, at times, but we, have never lost our serenity.
The doctor asks the questions generally, because he can keep his countenance, and look more like an inspired idiot, and throw more imbecility into the tone of his voice than any man that lives. It comes natural to him.
The guides in Genoa are delighted to secure an American party, because Americans so much wonder, and deal so much in sentiment and emotion before any relic of Columbus. Our guide there fidgeted about as
if he had swallowed a spring mattress. He was full of animation,-full of impatience. He said :
“Come wis me, genteelmen !--come! I show you ze letter writing by Christopher Colombo !-write it himself !-write it wis his own hand! --come !"
He took us to the municipal palace. After much impressive fumbling of keys and opening of locks, the stained and aged document was spread before us. The guide's eyes sparkled. He danced about us and tapped the parchment with his finger :
What I tell you, genteelmen! Is it not so ? See! handwriting Christopher Colombo !—write it himself!".
We looked indifferent,-unconcerned. The doctor examined the document very deliberately, during a painful pause. Then he said, without any show of interest,
“Ah,-Ferguson,—what—what did you say was the name of the party who wrote this ?”.
“ Christopher Colombo ! ze great Christopher Colombo !"
“He write it himself !-Christopher Colombo! he's own handwriting, write by himself!"
Then the doctor laid the document down and said, “Why, I have seen boys in America only fourteen years old that could write better than that."
“ But zis is ze great Christo—."
“I don't care who it is! It's the worst writing I ever saw. Now you mustn't think you can impose on us because we are strangers. We are not fools, by a good deal. If you have got any specimens of penmanship of real merit, trot them out !-and if you haven't, drive on !"
We drove on. The guide was considerably shaken up, but he made one more venture. He had something which he thought would overcome us. He said,
“Ah, genteelmen, you come wis us! I show you beautiful, oh, magnificent bust Christopher Colombo !—splendid, grand, magnificent!"
He brought us before the beautiful bust,—for it was beautiful,—and sprang back and struck an attitude :
“Ah, look, genteelmen !-beautiful, grand,-bust Christopher Colombo !-beautiful bust, beautiful pedestal !”
The doctor put up his eye-glass,-procured for such occasions :
“Christopher Colombo,—the great Christopher Colombo. Well, what did he do ?"
“Discover America !-discover America, oh, ze devil!"
“Discover America ? No,—that statement will hardly wash. We are just from America ourselves. We heard nothing about it. Christopher Colombo,-pleasant name,—is—is he dead ?"
“Oh, corpo di Baccho !-three hundred year !"
“Ah, I see, I see, -happy combination,--very happy combination indeed. Is—is this the first time this gentleman was ever on a bust ?"
That joke was lost on the foreigner,-guides cannot master the subtleties of the American joke.
We have made it interesting for this Roman guide. Yesterday we spent three or four hours in the Vatican again, that wonderful world of curiosities. We came very near expressing interest sometimes, even admiration. It was hard to keep from it. We succeeded, though. Nobody else ever did, in the Vatican museums. The guide was bewildered, nonplussed. He walked his legs off
, nearly, hunting up extraordinary things, and exhausted all his ingenuity on us, but it was a failure; we never showed any interest in anything. He had reserved what he considered to be his greatest wonder till the last,-a royal Egyptian mummy, the best preserved in the world, perhaps. He took us there. He felt so sure, this time, that some of his old enthusiasm came back to him :
“See, genteelmen !—Mummy! Mummy!”
“Ah,-Ferguson,—what did I understand you to say the gentleman's name was ?”
"Name?-he got no name !—mummy!—'Gyptian mummy!"
Frenchman, I presume ?"