I never have seen another dumb creature that was so morbidly sensitive. Bayard Taylor, who could interpret the dim reasonings of animals, and understood their moral natures better than most men, would have found some way to make this poor old chap forget his troubles for a while, but we have not his kindly art, and so had to leave the raven to his griefs.
After breakfast we climbed the hill and visited the ancient castle of Hirschhorn, and the ruined church near it. There were some curious old bas-reliefs leaning against the inner walls of the church--sculptured lords of Hirschhorn in complete armor, and ladies of Hirschhorn in the picturesque court costumes of the Middle Ages. These things are suffering damage and passing to decay, for the last Hirschhorn has been dead two hundred years, and there is nobody now who cares to preserve the family relics. In the chancel was a twisted stone column, and the captain told us a legend about it, of course, for in the matter of legends he could not seem to restrain himself; but I do not repeat his tale because there was nothing plausible about it except that the Hero wrenched this column into its present screw-shape with his hands --just one single wrench. All the rest of the legend was doubtful.
But Hirschhorn is best seen from a distance, down the river. Then the clustered brown towers perched on the green hilltop, and the old battlemented stone wall, stretching up and over the grassy ridge and disappearing in the leafy sea beyond, make a picture whose grace and beauty entirely satisfy the eye.
We descended from the church by steep stone stairways which curved this way and that down narrow alleys between the packed and dirty tenements of the village. It was a quarter well stocked with deformed, leering, unkempt and uncombed idiots, who held out hands or caps and begged piteously. The people of the quarter were not all idiots, of course, but all that begged seemed to be, and were said to be.
I was thinking of going by skiff to the next town, Necharsteinach; so I ran to the riverside in advance of the party and asked a man there if he had a boat to hire. I suppose I must have spoken High German--Court German--I intended it for that, anyway--so he did not understand me. I turned and twisted my question around and about, trying to strike that man's average, but failed. He could not make out what I wanted. Now Mr. X arrived, faced this same man, looked him in the eye, and emptied this sentence on him, in the most glib and confident way: "Can man boat get here?"
The mariner promptly understood and promptly answered. I can comprehend why he was able to understand that particular sentence, because by mere accident all the words in it except "get" have the same sound and the same meaning in German that they have in English; but how he managed to understand Mr. X's next remark puzzled me. I will insert it, presently. X turned away a moment, and I asked the mariner if he could not find a board, and so construct an additional seat. I spoke in the purest German, but I might as well have spoken in the purest Choctaw for all the good it did. The man tried his best to understand me; he tried, and kept on trying, harder and harder, until I saw it was really of no use, and said:
"There, don't strain yourself--it is of no consequence."
Then X turned to him and crisply said:
"MACHEN SIE a flat board."
I wish my epitaph may tell the truth about me if the man did not answer up at once, and say he would go and borrow a board as soon as he had lit the pipe which he was filling.
We changed our mind about taking a boat, so we did not have to go. I have given Mr. X's two remarks just as he made them. Four of the five words in the first one were English, and that they were also German was only accidental, not intentional; three out of the five words in the second remark were English, and English only, and the two German ones did not mean anything in particular, in such a connection.
X always spoke English to Germans, but his plan was to turn the sentence wrong end first and upside down, according to German construction, and sprinkle in a German word without any essential meaning to it, here and there, by way of flavor.