Mardi Gras in Nice by Anonymous

Have you ever happened in Nice at Carnival?

On a bright June morning, which my calendar called February twelfth, Rull and I tripped lightly down through the old olive orchards to the station, and billeted ourselves for Nice.

Long before we reached Nice Rull's hands tingled; for there lay a beautiful line of snow, miles away, on the north side of the Alps, and the poor fellow hadn't been as near a snow-ball as that for the winter. But I had only to say "confetti!" and his eyes danced at the vision of the parti-colored hailstorm to come.

Now hasten with us at once to the Promenade du Cours, up and down which the procession is to pass.

First, however, I shall buy for you each a little blue gauze mask; for you cannot even peep at Carnival unmasked. And if any of you can wear linen dusters with hoods attached, all the better. Don't leave a square inch of skin unprotected, I warn you.

Besides the little masks, you may buy, each of you, a whole bushel of these "sugar-plums," and have them sent to our balcony. Also for each a little tin scoop fastened on a flexible handle, which you are to fill with confetti but on no account to pull—at least, not yet.

The crowds are gathering. Pretty peasant girls in their holiday attire of bright petticoats, laced bodices, and white frilled caps; stray dominoes; richly dressed ladies with mask in hand; carriages so decorated with flowers as to be artistically hidden—even the wheels covered with batiste—blue, pink, purple, green or buff. Even the sidewalk, as we pass, is fringed with chairs at a franc each.

The "Cours" is gay with suspended banners, bright with festooned balconies and merry faces. Sidewalks and street are filled with people; but the horses have the right of way, and the people are fined if they are run over.

Let us hasten to our balcony, for here passes a band of musicians, in scarlet and gold, to open the procession.

Just in time we take our seats, and lo! before us rolls a huge car.

It is "the theatre"—an open car of puppets—but the puppets are men; all attached to cords held in the hand of the giant, who sits in imposing state above them on the top of the car which is on a level with the third story balconies.

The giant lifts his hand and the puppets whirl and jump. But alas! his head is too high. His hat is swept off by the hanging festoons, and the giant must ride bare-headed, in danger of sunstroke.

Next behind the car moves in military order a regiment of mounted grasshoppers. Their sleek, shining bodies of green satin, their gauzy wings and antennŠ, snub noses and big eyes, are all absolutely perfect to the eye; but—they are of the size of men.

You lower your mask to see more clearly, you are lost in wonder at the perfect illusion, your mouth is wide open with "Ohs!" and "Ahs!" when pop! pop! slings a shower of confetti, and the little hailstones seem to cut off your ears and rush sifting down your neck.

For, while you were watching the grasshoppers, a low open carriage, concealed under a pink and white cover, has stopped under our windows. Four merry masqueraders, cloaked and hooded in hue to match, have a bushel of confetti between them, and are piled with nosegays. We slink behind our masks, we pull the handles of our confetti scoops—then the battle begins and waxes fierce.

But they are crowded on; for behind them, in irresistible stateliness, moves on the Sun and Moon. Then come the Seasons: Winter represented by a band of Russians, fur-covered from top to toe, dragging a Siberian sledge. Summer is recognized by a car-load of choicest flowers, whose fragrance reaches us as they pass.

Here rolls a huge wine cask which fills half the wide street; there moves a pine cone, six feet high, to the eye perfectly like the cones, six inches in length, which we use daily to light our olive-wood fire.

Then a procession of giant tulips—stalk, calyx, petals, all complete. They also silently move on.

Next a huge pot, with a cat climbing its side, her paw just thrust beneath the lid. Ha! it suddenly flies off. Does the cat enter? We cannot see through the crowd. A colossal stump follows, trailing with mosses and vines. Upon it a bird's nest filled with young, their mouths wide open for food; wonderful, because the artistic skill is so perfect that, although so immense, they seem living and not unnatural.

Then a car of Arctic bears champing to and fro in the heat, poor things, as well they may; for this is a cloudless sky and an Italian sun. Look carefully at them and tell me, are they not true bears?

But ah! sling! sling! two handfuls of confetti sting your eyes back into place again, and dash the bears out of sight. Isn't it delightfully unbearable? You shout at the folly of having forgotten confetti, and then resolve to watch your chance at the next poor foot-pad.

Here passes a man with two faces. His arms are neatly folded before, also behind. You cannot tell which is the real front, until, suddenly, a horse trots up and nearly touches noses, while the man moves on undisturbed. You meant to give that man a dash, but you forgot, he was so queer.

Ah! here comes a carriage of pretty girls. Down pours the shot from the balcony above. It rains on you like hail. It runs in rills down your back. You hold your recovered ears, and add your tone to the rippling, rippling laughter that flows on in silvery tide.

Not one boisterous shout, not one impatient exclamation the whole livelong day; only everywhere the sound of childish glee. How good to see even old careworn faces lighted up with mirth!

Here goes an ostrich with a monkey on his back, then a man with a whole suit of clothes neatly fitted out of Journals.

But—look! look! there towers a huge car. Nay, it is a basket—a vegetable basket! but its sides are as high as our balcony. On its corners stand white carrots with their green waving tops upward. Around the edges are piled a variety of garden beauties.

But, wonderful to see, in the centre rises a mammoth cabbage. Its large-veined petals are as perfect as any you ever saw in your garden, but their tips reach above the third balcony. Upon these veined petals climb gorgeous butterflies, whose wings slowly shut and open while they sip. As the mammoth passes, the outer petals slowly droop, and snails are seen clinging within, while gayly-hued butterflies creep into view.

Now the carriages mingle gayly in the procession. Here is one with young lads, their faces protected with gauze masks, which laughably show shut red lips without, and two red lines of lips and white glittering teeth within. The battle of confetti waxes hot. Merry faces fill all balconies and windows. Many a beauty drops her mask for an instant like ourselves to peer more eagerly at the wonderful procession, but at her peril. On the instant dash! dash! flies the confetti, slung with force enough from the little scoops to sting sharply.

War is the fiercest yonder where there is such a handsome family (Americans we are sure), father, mother and daughter.

Here goes a carriage decorated with United States flags; all its occupants cloaked and hooded in gray linen, the carriage covered likewise. They stop beneath the balcony, and sling! sling! sling! in wildest combat until crowded on.

Up and down the procession sweeps. Up one side the wide "Cours" and down the other; the space within filled with the merry surging crowd, under the feet of the horses it would seem. But no matter. Horses and men and women and children bear a charmed life to-day.

Now and then a policeman pounces on the boys, who are gathering up the heaps of confetti from the dirt to sell again; but this is the only suggestion of law and order behind the gay confusion.

Here rolls a carriage trimmed with red and white. Within are a pair of scarlet dominoes, who peer mysteriously at you.

But look again at what moves on. A car longer than any yet seen.

It is a grotto. Within its cool recesses bask immense lizards. Some slowly climb its sides, then, in search of prey, thrust out their long tongues. In shining coat, in color, in movement, you would avow them to be lizards, truly. But how huge!

Behind the lizards pass again the mounted grasshoppers, our favorites of all, for their wonderfully perfect form and dainty beauty. And lo! they bear, to our delight, a silken banner, token of the prize.

For, pets, do you read between the lines and understand that this wonderful procession was the result of truly artistic skill?—that to imitate perfectly to the eye, to represent exactly in motion all these living creatures, and yet conceal within a boy or man who invisibly moved them, required all the delicacy of perception and nicety of workmanship of French eyes and fingers? Think you that your little fingers and bright eyes will ever attain so much.

Besides, all this was also a great outlay of thousands of francs. For Nice aroused herself to excel in Carnival, and offered large prizes—one of five thousand francs, another of four, another of three—for the most perfect representations.

Nowhere in Italy was there anything to compare with Nice. And I doubt if you would see again in Carnival what would so perfectly delight your young eyes, or so quicken your perception of artistic skill.

We look at our watches. Two hours yet; but we long to taste the fun on foot. So we fling our last confetti, fill hair and button-holes and hands with our sweet nosegays of geranium, sweet alyssum, mignonette and pansies—mementoes of the fight,—then descend to the sidewalk to press our way along the crowded court.

More and more to see! and, last of all, Carnival tossed and tumbled in effigy until his death by drowning or burning.

But we must be early at the station. Early, indeed! Peppered and pelted all the way, tweaked and shot at; but ever and always with only the harmless confetti and soft nosegays.

Sure that we are the first to leave, sure that no others are there before us, we pass into the outer baggage-room. Fifty more are there pressed hard against the closed door.

The crowd swells; hundreds are behind us; we can scarcely keep our feet. Yet what a good-natured crowd! The hour for the train to leave passes. By and by the closed door opens a crack; a gilt-banded arm is thrust through and one person taken out, and the solemn door closed again.

So, one by one, we ooze through, pass the turnstile in the passage under surveillance of the keen-eyed officer, and are admitted into the saloon, which is also locked.

We sink down into a seat nearest the one of two doors which instinct tells us is to be opened. Again we wait an hour till the last panting victim is passed through the stile.

Then, O! it is not our door which unlocks and opens but the other. We rush for a compartment; but no! all appear filled, so we step to an official and state our case.

He conducts us on, on, nearly to the end of the train, over stones and timbers; but, at last, bestows us out of that crowd in a compartment with but three persons. Soon we leave, only two hours later than the time advertised.

For in France, little pets, the trains wait for the people. The people are locked in till all is ready; then follows a rush like a grand game of "puss, puss in the corner!" and almost always there is some poor puss who cannot get in.

Guess how many bushels of confetti rattled on the floor of our chamber that night!