At the Appetite-Cure

by Mark Twain
from The Complete Humorous Sketches And Tales Of Mark Twain

( Photo by NeoromantikA )

This establishment’s name is Hochberghaus. It is in Bohemia, a short day’s journey from Vienna, and being in the Austrian Empire is of course a health resort. The empire is made up of health resorts; it distributes health to the whole world. Its waters are all medicinal. They are bottled and sent throughout the earth; the natives themselves drink beer. This is self-sacrifice apparently – but outlanders who have drunk Vienna beer have another idea about it. Particularly the Pilsner which one gets in a small cellar up an obscure back lane in the First Bezirk – the name has escaped me, but the place is easily found: You inquire for the Greek church; and when you get to it, go right along by – the next house is that little beer-mill. It is remote from all traffic and all noise; it is always Sunday there. There are two small rooms, with low ceilings supported by massive arches; the arches and ceilings are whitewashed, otherwise the rooms would pass for cells in the dungeons of a bastile. The furniture is plain and cheap, there is no ornamentation anywhere; yet it is a heaven for the self-sacrificers, for the beer there is incomparable; there is nothing like it elsewhere in the world. In the first room you will find twelve or fifteen ladies and gentlemen of civilian quality; in the other one a dozen generals and ambassadors. One may live in Vienna many months and not hear of this place; but having once heard of it and sampled it, the sampler will afterward infest it.
However, this is all incidental – a mere passing note of gratitude for blessings received – it has nothing to do with my subject. My subject is health resorts. All unhealthy people ought to domicile themselves in Vienna, and use that as a base, making flights from time to time to the outlying resorts, according to need. A flight to Marienbad to get rid of fat; a flight to Carlsbad to get rid of rheumatism; a flight to Kalteneutgeben to take the water cure and get rid of the rest of the diseases. It is all so handy. You can stand in Vienna and toss a biscuit into Kaltenleutgeben, with a twelve-inch gun. You can run out thither at any time of the day; you go by phenomenally slow trains, and yet inside of an hour you have exchanged the glare and swelter of the city for wooded hills, and shady forest paths, and soft cool airs, and the music of birds, and the repose and the peace of paradise.

And there are plenty of other health resorts at your service and convenient to get at from Vienna; charming places, all of them; Vienna sits in the centre of a beautiful world of mountains with now and then a lake and forests; in fact, no other city is so fortunately situated.

There is an abundance of health resorts, as I have said. Among them this place – Hochberghaus. It stands solitary on the top of a densely wooded mountain, and is a building of great size. It is called the Appetite Anstallt, and people who have lost their appetites come here to get them restored. When I arrived I was taken by Professor Haimberger to his consulting-room and questioned:

‘It is six o’clock. When did you eat last?’

‘At noon.’

‘What did you eat?’

‘Next to nothing.’

‘What was on the table?’

‘The usual things.’

‘Chops, chickens, vegetables, and so on?’

‘Yes; but don’t mention them – I can’t bear it.’

‘Are you tired of them?’

‘Oh, utterly. I wish I might never hear of them again.’

‘The mere sight of food offends you, does it?’

‘More, it revolts me.’

The doctor considered awhile, then got out a long menu and ran his eye slowly down it.

‘I think,’ said he, ‘that what you need to eat is – but here, choose for yourself.’

I glanced at the list, and my stomach threw a hand-spring. Of all the barbarous lay-outs that were ever contrived, this was the most atrocious. At the top stood ‘tough, underdone, overdue tripe, garnished with garlic;’ half-way down the bill stood ‘young cat; old cat; scrambled cat;’ at the bottom stood ‘sailor-boots, softened with tallow – served raw.’ The wide intervals of the bill were packed with dishes calculated to gag a cannibal. I said:

‘Doctor, it is not fair to joke over so serious a case as mine. I came here to get an appetite, not to throw away the remnant that’s left.’

He said gravely: ‘I am not joking; why should I joke?’

‘But I can’t eat these horrors.’

‘Why not?’

He said it with a naivete that was admirable, whether it was real or assumed.

‘Why not? Because – why, doctor, for months I have seldom been able to endure anything more substantial than omelettes and custards. These unspeakable dishes of yours -‘

‘Oh, you will come to like them. They are very good. And you must eat them. It is a rule of the place, and is strict. I cannot permit any departure from it.’

I said smiling: ‘Well, then, doctor, you will have to permit the departure of the patient. I am going.’

He looked hurt, and said in a way which changed the aspect of things:

‘I am sure you would not do me that injustice. I accepted you in good faith – you will not shame that confidence. This appetite-cure is my whole living. If you should go forth from it with the sort of appetite which you now have, it could become known, and you can see, yourself, that people would say my cure failed in your case and hence can fail in other cases. You will not go; you will not do me this hurt.’

I apologised and said I would stay.

‘That is right. I was sure you would not go; it would take the food from my family’s mouths.’

‘Would they mind that? Do they eat these fiendish things?’

‘They? My family?’ His eyes were full of gentle wonder. ‘Of course not.’

‘Oh, they don’t! Do you?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘I see. It’s another case of a physician who doesn’t take his own medicine.’

‘I don’t need it. It is six hours since you lunched. Will you have supper now – or later?’

‘I am not hungry, but now is as good a time as any, and I would like to be done with it and have it off my mind. It is about my usual time, and regularity is commanded by all the authorities. Yes, I will try to nibble a little now – I wish a light horsewhipping would answer instead.’

The professor handed me that odious menu.

‘Choose – or will you have it later?’

‘Oh, dear me, show me to my room; I forgot your hard rule.’

‘Wait just a moment before you finally decide. There is another rule. If you choose now, the order will be filled at once; but if you wait, you will have to await my pleasure. You cannot get a dish from that entire bill until I consent.’

‘All right. Show me to my room, and send the cook to bed; there is not going to be any hurry.’

The professor took me up one flight of stairs and showed me into a most inviting and comfortable apartment consisting of parlour, bedchamber, and bathroom.

The front windows looked out over a far-reaching spread of green glades and valleys, and tumbled hills clothed with forests – a noble solitude unvexed by the fussy world. In the parlour were many shelves filled with books. The professor said he would now leave me to myself; and added:

‘Smoke and read as much as you please, drink all the water you like. When you get hungry, ring and give your order, and I will decide whether it shall be filled or not. Yours is a stubborn, bad case, and I think the first fourteen dishes in the bill are each and all too delicate for its needs. I ask you as a favour to restrain yourself and not call for them.’

‘Restrain myself, is it? Give yourself no uneasiness. You are going to save money by me. The idea of coaxing a sick man’s appetite back with this buzzard-fare is clear insanity.’

I said it with bitterness, for I felt outraged by this calm, cold talk over these heartless new engines of assassination. The doctor looked grieved, but not offended. He laid the bill of fare of the commode at my bed’s head, ‘so that it would be handy,’ and said:

‘Yours is not the worst case I have encountered, by any means; still it is a bad one and requires robust treatment; therefore I shall be gratified if you will restrain yourself and skip down to No. 15 and begin with that.’

Then he left me and I began to undress, for I was dog-tired and very sleepy. I slept fifteen hours and woke up finely refreshed at ten the next morning. Vienna coffee! It was the first thing I thought of – that unapproachable luxury – that sumptuous coffee-house coffee, compared with which all other European coffee and all American hotel coffee is mere fluid poverty. I rang, and ordered it; also Vienna bread, that delicious invention. The servant spoke through the wicket in the door and said – but you know what he said. He referred me to the bill of fare. I allowed him to go – I had no further use for him.

After the bath I dressed and started for a walk, and got as far as the door. It was locked on the outside. I rang, and the servant came and explained that it was another rule. The seclusion of the patient was required until after the first meal. I had not been particularly anxious to get out before; but it was different now. Being locked in makes a person wishful to get out. I soon began to find it difficult to put in the time. At two o’clock I had been twenty-six hours without food. I had been growing hungry for some time; I recognised that I was not only hungry now, but hungry with a strong adjective in front of it. Yet I was not hungry enough to face the bill of fare.

I must put in the time somehow. I would read and smoke. I did it; hour by hour. The books were all of one breed–shipwrecks; people lost in deserts; people shut up in caved-in mines; people starving in besieged cities. I read about all the revolting dishes that ever famishing men had stayed their hunger with. During the first hours these things nauseated me: hours followed in which they did not so affect me; still other hours followed in which I found myself smacking my lips over some tolerably infernal messes. When I had been without food forty-five hours I ran eagerly to the bell and ordered the second dish in the bill, which was a sort of dumplings containing a compost made of caviar and tar.

It was refused me. During the next fifteen hours I visited the bell every now and then and ordered a dish that was further down the list. Always a refusal. But I was conquering prejudice after prejudice, right along; I was making sure progress; I was creeping up on No. 15 with deadly certainty, and my heart beat faster and faster, my hopes rose higher and higher.

At last when food had not passed my lips for sixty hours, victory was mine, and I ordered No. 15:

‘Soft-boiled spring chicken – in the egg; six dozen, hot and fragrant!’

In fifteen minutes it was there; and the doctor along with it, rubbing his hands with joy. He said with great excitement:

‘It’s a cure, it’s a cure! I knew I could do it. Dear sir, my grand system never failed – never. You’ve got your appetite back – you know you have; say it and make me happy.’

‘Bring on your carrion – I can eat anything in the bill!’

‘Oh, this is noble, this is splendid – but I knew I could do it, the system never fails. How are the birds?’

‘Never was anything so delicious in the world; and yet as a rule I don’t care for game. But don’t interrupt me, don’t – I can’t spare my mouth, I really can’t.’

Then the doctor said:

‘The cure is perfect. There is no more doubt nor danger. Let the poultry alone; I can trust you with a beefsteak, now.’

The beefsteak came–as much as a basketful of it–with potatoes, and Vienna bread and coffee; and I ate a meal then that was worth all the costly preparation I had made for it. And dripped tears of gratitude into the gravy all the time – gratitude to the doctor for putting a little plain common-sense into me when I had been empty of it so many, many years.

( from ‘The Complete Works’ of Mark Twain )


( Photo by Feliz )



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