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Title: Eating in Two or Three Languages
Author: Cobb, Irvin S. (Irvin Shrewsbury), 1876-1944
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Eating in Two or Three Languages" ***

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           [Illustration: NO RED MEATS, BUT ONLY SEA FOODS]


                          _in Two or Three_



                           _Irvin S. Cobb_

                             _Author of_
          _"Paths of Glory," "Those Times and These," etc._

                              _New York_
                      _George H. Doran Company_



       *       *       *       *       *





       *       *       *       *       *


No Red Meats, but Only Sea Foods. _Frontispiece_

"Herb, Stand Back! Stand Well Back to Avoid Being Splashed!"

Half a Dozen Times a Night or Oftener He Travelled under Escort
through the Room

_Eating in Two or Three Languages_

On my way home from overseas I spent many happy hours mapping out a
campaign. To myself I said: "The day I land is going to be a great day
for some of the waiters and a hard day on some of the cooks. Persons
who happen to be near by when I am wrestling with my first ear of
green corn will think I am playing on a mouth organ. My behaviour in
regard to hothouse asparagus will be reminiscent of the best work of
the late Bosco. In the matter of cantaloupes I rather fancy I shall
consume the first two on the half shell, or _au naturel_, as we
veteran correspondents say; but the third one will contain about as
much vanilla ice cream as you could put in a derby hat.


"And when, as I am turning over my second piece of fried chicken, with
Virginia ham, if H. Hoover should crawl out from under it, and,
shaking the gravy out of his eyes, should lift a warning hand, I shall
say to him: 'Herb,' I shall say, 'Herb, stand back! Stand well back
to avoid being splashed, Herb. Please desist and do not bother me now,
for I am busy. Kindly remember that I am but just returned from over
there and that for months and months past, as I went to and fro across
the face of the next hemisphere that you'll run into on the left of
you if you go just outside of Sandy Hook and take the first turn to
the right, I have been storing up a great, unsatisfied longing for the
special dishes of my own, my native land. Don't try, I pray you, to
tell me a patriot can't do his bit and eat it too, for I know better.

"'Shortly I may be in a fitter frame of mind to listen to your
admonitions touching on rationing schemes; but not to-day, and
possibly not to-morrow either, Herb. At this moment I consider food
regulations as having been made for slaves and perhaps for the run of
other people; but not for me. As a matter of fact, what you may have
observed up until now has merely been my preliminary attack--what you
might call open warfare, with scouting operations. But when they
bring on the transverse section of watermelon I shall take these two
trenching tools which I now hold in my hands, and just naturally start
digging in. I trust you may be hanging round then; you'll certainly
overhear something.'

"'Kindly pass the ice water. That's it. Thank you. Join me, won't you,
in a brimming beaker? It may interest you to know that I am now on my
second carafe of this wholesome, delicious and satisfying beverage.
Where I have lately been, in certain parts of the adjacent continent,
there isn't any ice, and nobody by any chance ever drinks water.
Nobody bathes in it either, so far as I have been able to note. You'll
doubtless be interested in hearing what they do do with it over on
that side. It took me months to find out.

"'Then finally, one night in a remote interior village, I went to an
entertainment in a Y.M.C.A. hut. A local magician came out on the
platform; and after he had done some tricks with cards and
handkerchiefs which were so old that they were new all over again, he
reached up under the tails of his dress coat and hauled out a big
glass globe that was slopping full of its crystal-pure fluid contents,
with a family of goldfish swimming round and round in it, as happy as
you please.

"'So then, all in a flash, the answer came and I knew the secret of
what the provincials in that section of Europe do with water. They
loan it to magicians to keep goldfish in. But I prefer to drink a
little of it while I am eating and to eat a good deal while I am
drinking it; both of which, I may state, I am now doing to the best of
my ability, and without let or hindrance, Herb.'"

To be exactly correct about it, I began mapping out this campaign long
before I took ship for the homeward hike. The suggestion formed in my
mind during those weeks I spent in London, when the resident
population first went on the food-card system. You had to have a meat
card, I think, to buy raw meat in a butcher shop, and you had to have
another kind of meat card, I know, to get cooked meat in a
restaurant; and you had to have a friend who was a smuggler or a
hoarder to get an adequate supply of sugar under any circumstances.
Before I left, every one was carrying round a sheaf of cards. You
didn't dare go fishing if you had mislaid your worm card.

The resolution having formed, it budded and grew in my mind when I was
up near the Front gallantly exposing myself to the sort of
table-d'hôte dinners that were available then in some of the lesser
towns immediately behind the firing lines; and it kept right on
growing, so that by the time I was ready to sail it was full sized. En
route, I thought up an interchangeable answer for two of the oldest
conundrums of my childhood, one of them being: "Round as a biscuit,
busy as a bee; busiest thing you ever did see," and the other, "Opens
like a barn door, shuts like a trap; guess all day and you can't guess
that." In the original versions the answer to the first was "A watch,"
and to the second, "A corset"--if I recall aright But the joint
answer I worked out was as follows: "My face!"

Such was the pleasing program I figured out on shipboard. But, as is
so frequently the case with the most pleasing things in life, I found
the anticipation rather outshone the realisation. Already I detect
myself, in a retrospective mood, hankering for the savoury _ragoûts_
we used to get in peasant homes in obscure French villages, and for
the meals they gave us at the regimental messes of our own forces,
where the cooking was the home sort and good honest American slang

They called the corned beef Canned Willie; and the stew was known
affectionately as Slum, and the doughnuts were Fried Holes. When the
adjutant, who had been taking French lessons, remarked "What the _la_
hell does that _sacré-blew_ cook mean by serving forty-fours at every
meal?" you gathered he was getting a mite tired of baked army beans.
And if the lieutenant colonel asked you to pass him the Native Sons
you knew he meant he wanted prunes. It was a great life, if you
didn't weaken--and nobody did.

But, so far as the joys of the table are concerned, I think I shall be
able to wait for quite a spell before I yearn for another whack at
English eating. I opine Charles Dickens would be a most unhappy man
could he but return to the scenes he loved and wrote about.

Dickens, as will be recalled, specialised in mouth-watering
descriptions of good things and typically British things to eat--roast
sucking pigs, with apples in their snouts; and baked goose; and suety
plum puddings like speckled cannon balls; and cold game pies as big
round as barrel tops--and all such. He wouldn't find these things
prevailing to any noticeable extent in his native island now. Even the
kidney, the same being the thing for which an Englishman mainly raises
a sheep and which he always did know how to serve up better than any
one else on earth, somehow doesn't seem to be the kidney it once upon
a time was when it had the proper sorts of trimmings and sauces to go
with it.

At this time England is no place for the epicure. In peacetime English
cooks, as a rule, were not what you would call versatile; their range,
as it were, was limited. Once, seeking to be blithesome and light of
heart, I wrote an article in which I said there were only three
dependable vegetables on the average Englishman's everyday
menu--boiled potatoes, boiled cabbage, and a second helping of the
boiled potatoes.

That was an error on my part; I was unintentionally guilty of the
crime of underestimation. I should have added a fourth to the list of
stand-bys--to wit: the vegetable marrow. For some reason, possibly
because they are a stubborn and tenacious race, the English persist in
looking upon the vegetable marrow as an object designed for human
consumption, which is altogether the wrong view to take of it. As a
foodstuff this article hasn't even the merit that attaches to stringy
celery. You do not derive much nourishment from stale celery, but
eating at it polishes the teeth and provides a healthful form of
exercise that gives you an appetite for the rest of the meal.

From the vegetable marrow you derive no nourishment, and certainly you
derive no exercise; for, being a soft, weak, spiritless thing, it
offers no resistance whatever, and it looks a good deal like a streak
of solidified fog and tastes like the place where an indisposed carrot
spent the night. Next to our summer squash it is the feeblest
imitation that ever masqueraded in a skin and called itself a
vegetable. Yet its friends over there seem to set much store by it.

Likewise the English cook has always gone in rather extensively for
boiling things. When in doubt she boiled. But it takes a lot of
retouching to restore to a piece of boiled meat the juicy essences
that have been simmered and drenched out of it. Since the English
people, with such admirable English thoroughness, cut down on fats and
oils and bacon garnishments, so that the greases might be conserved
for the fighting forces; and since they have so largely had to do
without imported spices and condiments, because the cargo spaces in
the ships coming in were needed for military essentials, the boiled
dishes of England appear to have lost most of their taste.

You can do a lot of browsing about at an English table these days and
come away ostensibly filled; but inside you there will be a persistent
unsatisfied feeling, all the same, which is partly due, no doubt, to
the lack of sweetening and partly due to the lack of fats, but due
most of all, I think, to a natural disappointment in the results. In
the old times a man didn't feel that he had dined well in England
unless for an hour or two afterward he had the comfortable gorged
sensation of a python full of pigeons.

I shall never forget the first meals I had on English soil, this
latest trip. At the port where we landed, in the early afternoon of a
raw day, you could get tea if you cared for tea, which I do not; but
there was no sugar--only saccharine--to sweeten it with, and no rich
cream, or even skim milk, available with which to dilute it. The
accompanying buns had a flat, dry, floury taste, and the portions of
butter served with them were very homoeopathic indeed as to size and
very oleomargarinish as to flavour.

Going up to London we rode in a train that was crowded and darkened.
Brilliantly illuminated trains scooting across country offered an
excellent mark for the aim of hostile air raiders, you know; so in
each compartment the gloom was enhanced rather than dissipated by two
tiny pin points of a ghastly pale-blue gas flame. I do not know why
there should have been two of these lights, unless it was that the
second one was added so that by its wan flickerings you could see the
first one, and vice versa.

During the trip, which lasted several hours longer than the scheduled
running time, we had for refreshments a few gnarly apples, purchased
at a way station; and that was all. Recalling the meals that formerly
had been served aboard the boat trains of this road, I realised I was
getting my preliminary dose of life on an island whose surrounding
waters were pestered by U-boats and whose shipping was needed for
transport service. But I pinned my gastronomic hopes on London, that
city famed of old for the plenteous prodigality of its victualling
facilities. In my ignorance I figured that the rigours of rationing
could not affect London to any very noticeable extent. A little
trimming down here and there, an enforced curtailment in this
direction and that--yes, perhaps so; but surely nothing more serious.

Immediately on arrival we chartered a taxicab--a companion and I did.
This was not so easy a job as might be imagined by one who formed his
opinions on past recollections of London, because, since gasoline was
carefully rationed there, taxis were scarce where once they had been
numerous. Indeed, I know of no city in which, in antebellum days,
taxis were so numerously distributed through almost every quarter of
the town as in London. At any busy corner there were almost as many
taxicabs waiting and ready to serve you as there are taxicabs in New
York whose drivers are cruising about looking for a chance to run over
you. The foregoing is still true of New York, but did not apply to
London in war time.

Having chartered our cab, much to the chagrin of a group of our fellow
travellers who had wasted precious time getting their heavy luggage
out of the van, we rode through the darkened streets to a hotel
formerly renowned for the scope and excellence of its cuisine. We
reached there after the expiration of the hour set apart under the
food regulations for serving dinner to the run of folks. But, because
we were both in uniform--he as a surgeon in the British Army, and I as
a correspondent--and because we had but newly finished a journey by
rail, we were entitled, it seemed, to claim refreshment.

However, he, as an officer, was restricted to a meal costing not to
exceed six shillings--and six shillings never did go far in this
hotel, even when prices were normal. Not being an officer but merely a
civilian disguised in the habiliments of a military man, I, on the
other hand, was bound by no such limitations, but might go as far as I
pleased. So it was decided that I should order double portions of
everything and surreptitiously share with him; for by now we were
hungry to the famishing point.

We had our minds set on a steak--a large thick steak served with
onions, Desdemona style--that is to say, smothered. It was a pretty
thought, a passing fair conception--but a vain one.

"No steaks to-night, sir," said the waiter sorrowfully.

"All right, then," one of us said. "How about chops--fat juicy chops?"

"Oh, no, sir; no chops, sir," he told us.

"Well then, what have you in the line of red meats?"

He was desolated to be compelled to inform us that there were no red
meats of any sort to be had, but only sea foods. So we started in with
oysters. Personally I have never cared deeply for the European oyster.
In size he is anæmic and puny as compared with his brethren of the
eastern coast of North America; and, moreover, chronically he is
suffering from an acute attack of brass poisoning. The only way by
which a novice may distinguish a bad European oyster from a good
European oyster is by the fact that a bad one tastes slightly better
than a good one does. In my own experience I have found this to be the
one infallible test.

We had oysters until both of us were full of verdigris, and I, for
one, had a tang in my mouth like an antique bronze jug; and then we
proceeded to fish. We had fillets of sole, which tasted as they
looked--flat and a bit flabby. Subsequently I learned that this lack
of savour in what should be the most toothsome of all European fishes
might be attributed to an insufficiency of fat in the cooking; but at
the moment I could only believe the trip up from Dover had given the
poor thing a touch of car sickness from which he had not recovered
before he reached us.

After that we had lobsters, half-fare size, but charged for at the
full adult rates. And, having by now exhausted our capacity for sea
foods, we wound up with an alleged dessert in the shape of three
drowned prunes apiece, the remains being partly immersed in a palish
custardlike composition that was slightly sour.

"Never mind," I said to my indignant stomach as we left the
table--"Never mind! I shall make it all up to you for this
mistreatment at breakfast to-morrow morning. We shall rise early--you
and I--and with loud gurgling cries we shall leap headlong into one of
those regular breakfasts in which the people of this city and nation
specialise so delightfully. Food regulators may work their ruthless
will upon the dinner trimmings, but none would dare to put so much as
the weight of one impious finger upon an Englishman's breakfast table
to curtail its plenitude. Why, next to Magna Charta, an Englishman's
breakfast is his most sacred right."

This in confidence was what I whispered to my gastric juices. You see,
being still in ignorance of the full scope of the ration scheme in
its application to the metropolitan district, and my disheartening
experience at the meal just concluded to the contrary notwithstanding,
I had my thoughts set upon rashers of crisp Wiltshire bacon, and broad
segments of grilled York ham, and fried soles, and lovely plump
sausages bursting from their jackets, and devilled kidneys paired off
on a slice of toast, like Noah and his wife crossing the gangplank
into the Ark.

Need I prolong the pain of my disclosures by longer withholding the
distressing truth that breakfast next morning was a failure too? To
begin with, I couldn't get any of those lovely crisp crescent rolls
that accord so rhythmically with orange marmalade and strawberry jam.
I couldn't get hot buttered toast either, but only some thin hard
slabs of war bread, which seemingly had been dry-cured in a kiln. I
could have but a very limited amount of sugar--a mere pinch, in fact;
and if I used it to tone up my coffee there would be none left for
oatmeal porridge. Moreover, this dab of sugar was to be my full day's
allowance, it seemed. There was no cream for the porridge either, but,
instead, a small measure of skimmed milk so pale in colour that it had
the appearance of having been diluted with moonbeams.

Furthermore, I was informed that prior to nine-thirty I could have no
meat of any sort, the only exceptions to this cruel rule being
kippered herrings and bloaters; and in strict confidence the waiter
warned me that, for some mysterious reason, neither the kippers nor
the bloaters seemed to be up to their oldtime mark of excellence just
now. From the same source I gathered that it would be highly
inadvisable to order fried eggs, because of the lack of sufficient fat
in which to cook them. So, as a last resort, I ordered two eggs,
soft-boiled. They were served upended, English-fashion, in little
individual cups, the theory being that in turn I should neatly scalp
the top off of each egg with my spoon and then scoop out the contents
from Nature's own container.

Now Englishmen are born with the faculty to perform this difficult
achievement; they inherit it. But I have known only one American who
could perform the feat with neatness and despatch; and, as he had
devoted practically all his energies to mastering this difficult alien
art, he couldn't do much of anything else, and, except when eggs were
being served in the original packages, he was practically a total loss
in society. He was a variation of the breed who devote their lives to
producing a perfect salad dressing; and you must know what sad affairs
those persons are when not engaged in following their lone talent.
Take them off of salad dressings and they are just naturally null and

In my crude and amateurish way I attacked those eggs, breaking into
them, not with the finesse the finished egg burglar would display, but
more like a yeggman attacking a safe. I spilt a good deal of the
insides of those eggs down over their outsides, producing a most
untidy effect; and when I did succeed in excavating a spoonful I
generally forgot to season it, or else it was full of bits of shell.
Altogether, the results were unsatisfactory and mussy. Rarely have I
eaten a breakfast which put so slight a subsequent strain upon my
digestive processes.

Until noon I hung about, preoccupied and surcharged with inner
yearnings. There were plenty of things--important things, too, they
were--that I should have been doing; but I couldn't seem to fix my
mind upon any subject except food. The stroke of midday found me
briskly walking into a certain restaurant on the Strand that for many
decades has been internationally famous for the quality and the
unlimited quantity of its foods, and more particularly for its beef
and its mutton. If ever you visited London in peacetime you must
remember the place I mean.

The carvers were middle-aged full-ported men, with fine ruddy
complexions, and moustaches of the Japanese weeping mulberry or
mammoth droop variety. On signal one of them would come promptly to
you where you sat, he shoving ahead of him a great trencher on
wheels, with a spirit lamp blazing beneath the platter to keep its
delectable burden properly hot. It might be that he brought to you a
noble haunch of venison or a splendid roast of pork or a vast leg of
boiled mutton; or, more likely yet, a huge joint of beef uprearing
like a delectable island from a sea of bubbling gravy, with an edging
of mashed potatoes creaming up upon its outer reefs.

If, then, you enriched this person with a shilling, or even if you
didn't, he would take in his brawny right hand a knife with a blade a
foot long, and with this knife he would cut off from the joint a slice
about the size and general dimensions of a horseshoer's apron. And if
you cared for a second slice, after finishing the first one, the
carver felt complimented and there was no extra charge for it. It was
his delight to minister to you.

But, alas, on this day when I came with my appetite whetted by my sea
voyage, and with an additional edge put upon it by the privations I
had undergone since landing, there was to be had no beef at all! Of a
sudden this establishment, lacking its roast beef, became to me as the
tragedy of Hamlet, the melancholy Dane, would be with Hamlet and
Ophelia and her pa and the ghost and the wicked queen, and both the
gravediggers, all left out.

When I had seated myself one of the carvers came to me and, with an
abased and apologetic air, very different from his jaunty manner of
yore, explained in a husky half whisper that I might have jugged hare
or I might have boiled codfish, or I might have one of the awful
dishes. Anyhow, that was what I understood him to say.

This last had an especially daunting sound, but I suppose I was in a
morbid state, anyhow, by now; and so I made further inquiry and
ascertained from him that the restrictions applying to the sale of
meat did not apply to the more intimate organs of the butchered
animal, such as the liver and the heart, and, in the case of a cow,
the tripe. But the English, with characteristic bluntness, choose to
call one of these in its cooked state an offal dish--pronounced as
spelled and frequently tasting as pronounced.

As one who had primed himself for a pound or so of the rib-roast
section of a grass-fed steer, I was not to be put off with one of the
critter's spare parts, as it were. Nor did the thought of codfish, and
especially boiled codfish, appeal to me greatly. I have no settled
antipathy to the desiccated tissues of this worthy deep-sea voyager
when made up into fish cakes. Moreover that young and adolescent
creature, commonly called a Boston scrod, which is a codfish whose
voice is just changing, is not without its attractions; but the
full-grown species is not a favourite of mine.

To me there has ever been something depressing about an adult codfish.
Any one who has ever had occasion to take cod-liver oil--as who,
unhappily, has not?--is bound to appreciate the true feelings that
must inevitably come to a codfish as he goes to and fro in the deep
for years on a stretch, carrying that kind of a liver about with him
all the while.

As a last resort I took the jugged hare; but jugged hare was not what
I craved. At eventide, returning to the same restaurant, I was
luckier. I found mutton on the menu; but, even so, yet another hard
blow awaited me. By reason of the meat-rationing arrangements a single
purchaser was restricted to so many ounces a week, and no more. The
portion I received in exchange for a corner clipped off my meat card
was but a mere reminder of what a portion in that house would have
been in the old days.

There had been a time when a sincere but careless diner from up
Scotland way, down in London on a visit, would have carried away more
than that much on his necktie; which did not matter particularly then,
when food was plentiful; and, besides, usually he wore a pattern of
necktie which was improved by almost anything that was spilled upon
it. But it did matter to me that I had to dine on this hangnail pared
from a sheep.

A few days later I partook of a fast at what was supposed to be a
luncheon, which the Lord Mayor of London attended, in company with
sundry other notables. Earlier readings had led me to expect an
endless array of spicy and succulent viands at any table a Lord Mayor
might grace with his presence. Such, though, was not the case here. We
had eggs for an _entrée_; and after that we had plain boiled turbot,
which to my mind is no great shakes of a fish, even when tuckered up
with sauces; and after that we had coffee and cigars; and finally we
had several cracking good speeches by members of a race whose men are
erroneously believed by some Americans to be practically inarticulate
when they get up on their feet and try to talk.

There was a touch of tragedy mingled in with the comedy of the
situation in the spectacle of these Englishmen, belonging to a nation
of proverbially generous feeders, stinting themselves and cutting the
lardings and the sweetenings and the garnishments down to the limit
that there might be a greater abundance of solid sustenance
forthcoming for their fighting forces.

I do not mean by this that there was any real lack of nourishing
provender in London or anywhere else in England that I went. The long
queues of waiting patrons in front of the butcher shops during the
first few days of my sojourn very soon disappeared when people learned
that they could be sure of getting meat of one sort or another, and at
a price fixed by law; which was a good thing too, seeing that thereby
the extortioner and the profiteer lost their chances to gain unduly
through the necessities of the populace. So far as I was able to
ascertain, nobody on the island actually suffered--except the present
writer of these lines; and he suffered chiefly because he could not
restrain himself from comparing the English foods of pre-war periods
with the English foods of the hour.

If things were thus in England, what would they be in France? This was
the question I repeatedly put to myself. But when I got to France a
surprise awaited me. It was a surprise deferred, because for the
first week of my sojourn upon French soil I was the guest of the
British military authorities at a château maintained for the
entertainment of visiting Americans who bore special credentials from
the British Foreign Office.

Here, because Britain took such good and splendid care to provide
amply for her men in uniform, there was a wide variety of good food
and an abundance of it for the guests and hosts alike. I figured,
though, that when I had passed beyond the zone of this gracious
hospitality there would be slim pickings. Not at all!

In Paris there was to be had all the food and nearly all the sorts of
food any appetite, however fastidious, might crave. This was before
the French borrowed the card system of ration control in order to
govern the consumption of certain of the necessities. Of poultry and
of sea foods the only limits to what one might order were his interior
capacity and his purse. Of red meats there was seemingly a boundless

One reason for this plenitude lay in the fact that France, to a very
great extent, is a self-contained, self-supporting land, which England
distinctly is not; and another reason undoubtedly was that the French,
being more frugal and careful than their British or their American
brethren ever have been, make culinary use of a great deal of
healthful provender which the English-speaking races throw away.
Merely by glancing at the hors d'oeuvres served at luncheon in a
medium-priced café in Paris one can get a good general idea of what
discriminating persons declined to eat at dinner the night before.

The Parisian garbage collector must work by the day and not by the
job. On a piecework contract he would starve to death. And a third
reason was that all through the country the peasants, by request of
the Government, were slaughtering their surplus beeves and sheep and
swine, so there might be more forage for the army horses and more
grain available for the flour rations of the soldiers.

In Paris the bread was indifferently poor. An individual was
restricted to one medium-sized roll of bread at a meal. Butter was not
by any means abundant, and of sugar there was none to be had at all
unless the traveller had bethought him to slip a supply into the
country with him. The bulk of the milk supply was requisitioned for
babies and invalids and disabled soldiers. Cakes or pastries in any
form were absolutely prohibited in the public eating places, and, I
think, in private homes as well. But of beef and mutton and veal and
fowls, and the various products of the humble but widely versatile
pig, there was no end, provided you had the inclination plus the

And so, though the lack of sugar in one's food gave one an almost
constant craving for something sweet--and incidentally insured a host
of friends for anybody who came along with a box of American candy
under his arm or a few cakes of sweet chocolate in his pocket--one
might take his choice of a wide diversity of fare at any restaurant
of the first or second class, and keep well stayed.

In connection with the Paris restaurants I made a most interesting
discovery, which was that when France called up her available man
power at the time of the great mobilisation, the military heads
somehow overlooked one group who, for their sins, should have been
sent up where bullets and Huns were thickest. The slum gave up its
Apache--and a magnificent fighter he is said to have made too! And the
piratical cab drivers who formerly infested the boulevards must have
answered the summons almost to a man, because only a few of them are
left nowadays, and they mainly wear markings to prove they have served
in the ranks; but by a most reprehensible error of somebody in
authority the typical head waiters of the cafés were spared. I base
this assertion upon the fact that all of them appeared to be on duty
at the time of my latest visit. If there was a single absentee from
the ranks I failed to miss him.

There they were, the same hawk-eyed banditti crew that one was
constantly encountering in the old days; and up to all the same old
tricks too--such as adding the date of the month and all the figures
of the year into the bill; and such as invariably recommending the
most expensive dishes to foreigners; and such as coming to one and
bending over one and smiling upon one and murmuring to one: "An' wot
will ze gentailman 'ave to-day?"--and then, before the gentailman can
answer, jumping right in and telling him what he is going to have,
always favouring at least three different kinds of meats for even the
lightest meal, and never less than two vegetables, and never once
failing to recommend a full bottle of the costliest wine on the

Stress of war had not caused these gentry to forget or forgo a single
one of the ancient wiles that for half a century their kind has
practised upon American tourists and others who didn't care what else
they did with their money so long as they were given a chance to spend
it for something they didn't particularly want. Yep; those charged
with the responsibility of calling up the reserves certainly made a
big mistake back yonder in August of 1914. They practised
discrimination in the wrong quarter altogether. If any favouritism was
to be shown they should have taken the head waiters and left the
Apaches at home.

Many's the hard battle that I had with these chaps in 1918. It never
failed--not one single, solitary time did it fail--that the
functionary who took my order first tried to tell me what my order was
going to be, and then, after a struggle, reluctantly consented to
bring me the things I wanted and insisted on having. Never once did he
omit the ceremony of impressing it upon me that he would regard it as
a deep favour if only I would be so good as to order a whole lobster.
I do not think there was anything personal in this; he recommended the
lobster because lobster was the most expensive thing he had in stock.
If he could have thought of anything more expensive than lobster he
would have recommended that.

I always refused--not that I harbour any grudge against lobsters as a
class, but because I object to being dictated to by a buccaneer with
flat feet, who wears a soiled dickey instead of a shirt, and who is
only waiting for a chance to overcharge me or short-change me, or give
me bad money, or something. If every other form of provender had
failed them the populace of Paris could have subsisted very
comfortably for several days on the lobsters I refused to buy in the
course of the spring and summer of last year. I'm sure of it.

And when I had firmly, emphatically, yea, ofttimes passionately
declined the proffered lobster, he, having with difficulty mastered
his chagrin, would seek to direct my attention to the salmon, his
motive for this change in tactics being that salmon, though apparently
plentiful, was generally the second most expensive item upon the
regular menu. Salmon as served in Paris wears a different aspect from
the one commonly worn by it when it appears upon the table here.

Over there they cut the fish through amidships, in cross-sections,
and, removing the segment of spinal column, spread the portion flat
upon a plate and serve it thus; the result greatly resembling a pair
of miniature pink horse collars. A man who knew not the salmon in his
native state, or ordering salmon in France, would get the idea that
the salmon was bowlegged and that the breast had been sold to some one
else, leaving only the hind quarters for him.

Harking back to lobsters, I am reminded of a tragedy to which I was an
eyewitness. Nearly every night for a week or more two of us dined at
the same restaurant on the Rue de Rivoli. On the occasion of our first
appearance here we were confronted as we entered by a large table
bearing all manner of special delicacies and cold dishes. Right in the
middle of the array was one of the largest lobsters I ever saw,
reposing on a couch of water cress and seaweed, arranged upon a
serviette. He made an impressive sight as he lay there prone upon his
stomach, fidgeting his feelers in a petulant way.

We two took seats near by. At once the silent signal was given
signifying, in the cipher code, "Americans in the house!" And the
_maître d'hôtel_ came to where he rested and, grasping him firmly just
back of the armpits, picked him up and brought him over to us and
invited us to consider his merits. When we had singly and together
declined to consider the proposition of eating him in each of the
three languages we knew--namely, English, bad French, and profane--the
master sorrowfully returned him to his bed.

Presently two other Americans entered and immediately after them a
party of English officers, and then some more Americans. Each time the
boss would gather up the lobster and personally introduce him to the
newcomers, just as he had done in our case, by poking the monster
under their noses and making him wriggle to show that he was really
alive and not operated by clockwork, and enthusiastically dilating
upon his superior attractions, which, he assured them, would be
enormously enhanced if only _messieurs_ would agree forthwith to
partake of him in a broiled state. But there were no takers; and so
back again he would go to his place by the door, there to remain till
the next prospective victim arrived.

We fell into the habit of going to this place in the evenings in order
to enjoy repetitions of this performance while dining. The lobster
became to us as an old friend, a familiar acquaintance. We took to
calling him Jess Willard, partly on account of his reach and partly on
account of his rugged appearance, but most of all because his manager
appeared to have so much trouble in getting him matched with anybody.


Half a dozen times a night, or oftener, he travelled under escort
through the dining room, always returning again to his regular
station. Along about the middle of the week he began to fail visibly.
Before our eyes we saw him fading. Either the artificial life he was
leading or the strain of being turned down so often was telling upon
him. It preyed upon his mind, as we could discern by his morose
expression. It sapped his splendid vitality as well. No longer did he
expand his chest and wave his numerous extremities about when being
exhibited before the indifferent eyes of possible investors, but
remained inert, logy, gloomy, spiritless--a melancholy spectacle

It now required artificial stimulation to induce him to display even a
temporary interest in his surroundings. With a practised finger, his
keeper would thump him on the tenderer portions of his stomach, and
then he would wake up; but it was only for a moment. He relapsed again
into his lamentable state of depression and languor. By every outward
sign here was a lobster that fain would withdraw from the world. But
we knew that for him there was no opportunity to do so; on the hoof he
represented too many precious francs to be allowed to go into

Coming on Saturday night we realised that for our old friend the end
was nigh. His eyes were deeply set about two-thirds of the way back
toward his head and with one listless claw he picked at the serviette.
The summons was very near; the dread inevitable impended.

Sunday night he was still present, but in a greatly altered state.
During the preceding twenty-four hours his brave spirit had fled. They
had boiled him then; so now, instead of being green, he was a bright
and varnished red all over, the exact colour of Truck Six in the
Paducah Fire Department.

We felt that we who had been sympathisers at the bedside during some
of his farewell moments owed it to his memory to assist in the last
sad rites. At a perfectly fabulous price we bought the departed and
undertook to give him what might be called a personal interment; but
he was a disappointment. He should have been allowed to take the veil
before misanthropy had entirely undermined his health and destroyed
his better nature, and made him, as it were, morbid. Like Harry Leon
Wilson's immortal Cousin Egbert, he could be pushed just so far, and
no farther.

Before I left Paris the city was put upon bread cards. The country at
large was supposed to be on bread rations too; but in most of the
smaller towns I visited the hotel keepers either did not know about
the new regulation or chose to disregard it. Certainly they generally
disregarded it so far as we were concerned. For all I know to the
contrary, though, they were restricting their ordinary patrons to the
ordained quantities and making an exception in the case of our people.
It may have been one of their ways of showing a special courtesy to
representatives of an allied race. It would have been characteristic
of these kindly provincial innkeepers to have done just that thing.

Likewise, one could no longer obtain cheese in a first-grade Paris
restaurant or aboard a French dining car, though cheese was to be had
in unstinted quantity in the rural districts and in the Paris shops;
and, I believe, it was also procurable in the cafés of the Parisian
working classes, provided it formed a part of a meal costing not more
than five francs, or some such sum. In a first-rate place it was, of
course, impossible to get any sort of meal for five francs, or ten
francs either; especially after the ten per cent luxury tax had been
tacked on.

In March prices at the smarter café eating places had already
advanced, I should say, at least one hundred per cent above the
customary pre-war rates; and by midsummer the tariffs showed a second
hundred per cent increase in delicacies, and one of at least fifty per
cent in staples, which brought them almost up to the New York
standards. Outside of Paris prices continued to be moderate and fair.

Just as I was about starting on my last trip to the Front before
sailing for home, official announcement was made that dog biscuits
would shortly be advanced in price to a well-nigh prohibitive figure.
So I presume that very shortly thereafter the head waiters began
offering dog biscuits to American guests. I knew they would do so,
just as soon as a dog biscuit cost more than a lobster did.

Until this trip I never appreciated what a race of perfect cooks the
French are. I thought I did, but I didn't. One visiting the big cities
or stopping at show places and resorts along the main lines of motor
and rail travel in peacetime could never come to a real and due
appreciation of the uniformly high culinary expertness of the populace
in general. I had to take campaigning trips across country into
isolated districts lying well off the old tourist lanes to learn the
lesson. Having learned it, I profited by it.

No matter how small the hamlet or how dingy appearing the so-called
hotel in it might be, we were sure of getting satisfying food, cooked
agreeably and served to us by a friendly, smiling little French
maiden, and charged for at a most reasonable figure, considering that
generally the town was fairly close up to the fighting lines and the
bringing in of supplies for civilians' needs was frequently
subordinated to the handling of military necessities.

Indeed, the place might be almost within range of the big guns and
subjected to bombing outrages by enemy airmen, but somehow the local
Boniface managed to produce food ample for our desires, and most
appetising besides. His larder might be limited, but his good nature,
like his willingness and his hospitality, was boundless.

I predict that there is going to be an era of better cooking in
America before very long. Our soldiers, returning home, are going to
demand a tastier and more diversified fare than many of them enjoyed
before they put on khaki and went overseas; and they are going to get
it, too. Remembering what they had to eat under French roofs, they
will never again be satisfied with meats fried to death, with soggy
vegetables, with underdone breads.

Sometimes as we went scouting about on our roving commission to see
what we might see, at mealtime we would enter a community too small
to harbour within it any establishment calling itself a hotel. In such
a case this, then, would be our procedure: We would run down to the
railroad crossing and halt at the door of the inevitable _Café de la
Station_, or, as we should say in our language, the Last Chance
Saloon; and of the proprietor we would inquire the name and
whereabouts of some person in the community who might be induced, for
a price, to feed a duet or a trio of hungry correspondents.

At first, when we were green at the thing, we sometimes tried to
interrogate the local gendarme; but complications, misunderstandings,
and that same confusion of tongues which spoiled so promising a
building project one time at the Tower of Babel always ensued. Central
Europe has a very dense population, as the geographies used to tell
us; but the densest ones get on the police force.

So when by bitter experience we had learned that the gendarme never by
any chance could get our meaning and that we never could understand
his gestures, we hit upon the wise expedient of going right away to
the Last Chance for information.

At the outset I preferred to let one of my companions conduct the
inquiry; but presently it dawned upon me that my mode of speech gave
unbounded joy to my provincial audiences, and I decided that if a
little exertion on my part brought a measure of innocent pleasure into
the lives of these good folks it was my duty, as an Ally, to oblige
whenever possible.

I came to realise that all these years I have been employing the wrong
vehicle when I strive to dash off whimsicalities, because frequently
my very best efforts, as done in English, have fallen flat. But when
in some remote village I, using French, uttered the simplest and most
commonplace remark to a French tavern keeper, with absolutely no
intent or desire whatsoever, mind you, to be humorous or facetious,
invariably he would burst instantly into peals of unbridled merriment.

Frequently he would call in his wife or some of his friends to help
him laugh. And then, when his guffaws had died away into gentle
chuckles, he would make answer; and if he spoke rapidly, as he always
did, I would be swept away by the freshets of his eloquence and left
gasping far beyond my depth.

That was why, when I went to a revue in Paris, I hoped they'd have
some good tumbling on the bill.

I understand French, of course, curiously enough, but not as spoken. I
likewise have difficulty in making out its meaning when I read it; but
in other regards I flatter myself that my knowledge of the language is
quite adequate. Certainly, as I have just stated, I managed to create
a pleasant sensation among my French hearers when I employed it in

As I was saying, the general rule was that I should ask the name and
whereabouts of a house in the town where we might procure victuals;
and then, after a bit, when the laughing had died down, one of my
companions would break in and find out what we wanted to know.

The information thus secured probably led us to a tiny cottage of
mud-daubed wattles. Our hostess there might be a shapeless, wrinkled,
clumsy old woman. Her kitchen equipment might be confined to an open
fire and a spit, and a few battered pots.

Her larder might be most meagrely circumscribed as to variety, and
generally was. But she could concoct such savoury dishes for us--such
marvellous, golden-brown fried potatoes; such good soups; such savoury
omelets; such toothsome fragrant stews! Especially such stews!

For all we knew--or cared--the meat she put into her pot might have
been horse meat and the garnishments such green things as she had
plucked at the roadside; but the flavour of the delectable broth cured
us of any inclinations to make investigation as to the former stations
in life of its basic constituents. I am satisfied that, chosen at
random, almost any peasant housewife of France can take an old Palm
Beach suit and a handful of potherbs and, mingling these together
according to her own peculiar system, turn out a ragout fit for a
king. Indeed, it would be far too good for some kings I know of.

And if she had a worn-out bath sponge and the cork of a discarded
vanilla-extract bottle she, calling upon her hens for a little help in
the matter of eggs, could produce for dessert a delicious meringue,
with floating-island effects in it. I'd stake my life on her ability
to deliver.

If, on such an occasion as the one I have sought to describe, we were
perchance in the south of France or in the Côte-d'Or country, lying
over toward the Swiss border, we could count upon having a bait of
delicious strawberries to wind up with. But if perchance we had fared
into one of the northeastern provinces we were reasonably certain the
meal would be rounded out with helpings of a certain kind of cheese
that is indigenous to those parts. It comes in a flat cake, which
invariably is all caved in and squashed out, as though the
cheese-maker had sat upon it while bringing it into the market in his
two-wheeled cart.

Likewise, when its temperature goes up, it becomes more of a liquid
than a solid; and it has an aroma by virtue of which it secures the
attention and commands the respect of the most casual passer-by. It is
more than just cheese. I should call it mother-of-cheese. It is to
other and lesser cheeses as civet cats are to canary birds--if you get
what I mean; and in its company the most boisterous Brie or the most
vociferous Camembert you ever saw becomes at once deaf and dumb.

Its flavour is wonderful. Mainly it is found in ancient Normandy; and,
among strangers, eating it--or, when it is in an especially fluid
state, drinking it--comes under the head of outdoor sports. But the
natives take it right into the same house with themselves.

And, no matter where we were--in Picardy, in Brittany, in the Vosges
or the Champagne, as the case might be--we had wonderful crusty bread
and delicious butter and a good light wine to go along with our meal.
We would sit at a bare table in the smoky cluttered interior of the
old kitchen, with the rafters just over our heads, and with the broken
tiles--or sometimes the bare earthen floor--beneath our feet, and
would eat our fill.

More times than once or twice or thrice I have known the mistress of
the house at settlement time to insist that we were overpaying her.
From a civilian compatriot she would have exacted the last sou of her
just due; but, because we were Americans and because our country had
sent its sons overseas to help her people save France, she, a
representative of the most canny and thrifty class in a country known
for the thriftiness of all its classes, hesitated to accept the full
amount of the sum we offered her in payment.

She believed us, of course, to be rich--in the eyes of the European
peasant all Americans are rich--and she was poor and hard put to it to
earn her living; but here was a chance for her to show in her own way
a sense of what she, as a Frenchwoman, felt for America. Somehow, the
more you see of the French, the less you care for the Germans.

Moving on up a few miles nearer the trenches, we would run into our
own people; and then we were sure of a greeting, and a chair apiece
and a tin plate and a tin cup apiece at an American mess. I have had
chuck with privates and I have had chow with noncoms; I have had grub
with company commanders and I have dined with generals--and always the
meal was flavoured with the good, strong man-talk of the real

The food was of the best quality and there was plenty of it for all,
and some to spare. One reason--among others--why the Yank fought so
well was because he was so well fed between fights.

The very best meals I had while abroad were vouchsafed me during the
three days I spent with a front-line regiment as a guest of the
colonel of one of our negro outfits. To this colonel a French
general, out of the goodness of his heart, had loaned his cook, a
whiskered poilu, who, before he became a whiskered poilu, had been the
chef in the castle of one of the richest men in Europe.

This genius cooked the midday meals and the dinners; but, because no
Frenchman can understand why any one should require for breakfast
anything more solid than a dry roll and a dab of honey, the
preparation of the morning meal was intrusted to a Southern black boy,
who, I may say, was a regular skillet hound. And this gifted youth
wrestled with the matutinal ham and eggs and flipped the flapjacks for
the headquarters mess.

On a full Southern breakfast and a wonderful French luncheon and
dinner a grown man can get through the day very, very well indeed, as
I bear witness.

Howsomever, as spring wore into summer and summer ran its course, I
began to long with a constantly increasing longing for certain
distinctive dishes to be found nowhere except in my native clime;
brook trout, for example, and roasting ears, and--Oh, lots of things!
So I came home to get them.

And, now that I've had them, I often catch myself in the act of
thoughtfully dwelling upon the fond remembrances of those spicy
fragrant stews eaten in peasant kitchens, and those army doughnuts,
and those slices of bacon toasted at daybreak on the lids of mess kits
in British dugouts.

I suppose they call contentment a jewel because it is so rare.

       *       *       *       *       *









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