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Life On The Mississippi, Complete by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

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war will at no time during the evening become the topic of conversation;
and the chances are still greater that if it become the topic it will
remain so but a little while. If you add six ladies to the company, you
have added six people who saw so little of the dread realities of the
war that they ran out of talk concerning them years ago, and now would
soon weary of the war topic if you brought it up.

The case is very different in the South. There, every man you meet was
in the war; and every lady you meet saw the war. The war is the great
chief topic of conversation. The interest in it is vivid and constant;
the interest in other topics is fleeting. Mention of the war will wake
up a dull company and set their tongues going, when nearly any other
topic would fail. In the South, the war is what A.D. is elsewhere: they
date from it. All day long you hear things 'placed' as having happened
since the waw; or du'in' the waw; or befo' the waw; or right aftah the
waw; or 'bout two yeahs or five yeahs or ten yeahs befo' the waw or
aftah the waw. It shows how intimately every individual was visited, in
his own person, by that tremendous episode. It gives the inexperienced
stranger a better idea of what a vast and comprehensive calamity
invasion is than he can ever get by reading books at the fireside.

At a club one evening, a gentleman turned to me and said, in an aside--

'You notice, of course, that we are nearly always talking about the war.
It isn't because we haven't anything else to talk about, but because
nothing else has so strong an interest for us. And there is another
reason: In the war, each of us, in his own person, seems to have sampled
all the different varieties of human experience; as a consequence, you
can't mention an outside matter of any sort but it will certainly remind
some listener of something that happened during the war--and out he
comes with it. Of course that brings the talk back to the war. You may
try all you want to, to keep other subjects before the house, and we may
all join in and help, but there can be but one result: the most random
topic would load every man up with war reminiscences, and shut him up,
too; and talk would be likely to stop presently, because you can't talk
pale inconsequentialities when you've got a crimson fact or fancy in
your head that you are burning to fetch out.'

The poet was sitting some little distance away; and presently he began
to speak--about the moon.

The gentleman who had been talking to me remarked in an 'aside:' 'There,
the moon is far enough from the seat of war, but you will see that it
will suggest something to somebody about the war; in ten minutes from
now the moon, as a topic, will be shelved.'

The poet was saying he had noticed something which was a surprise to
him; had had the impression that down here, toward the equator, the
moonlight was much stronger and brighter than up North; had had the
impression that when he visited New Orleans, many years ago, the moon--

Interruption from the other end of the room--

'Let me explain that. Reminds me of an anecdote. Everything is changed
since the war, for better or for worse; but you'll find people down here
born grumblers, who see no change except the change for the worse.
There was an old negro woman of this sort. A young New-Yorker said in
her presence, "What a wonderful moon you have down here!" She sighed
and said, "Ah, bless yo' heart, honey, you ought to seen dat moon befo'
de waw!"'

The new topic was dead already. But the poet resurrected it, and gave
it a new start.

A brief dispute followed, as to whether the difference between Northern
and Southern moonlight really existed or was only imagined. Moonlight
talk drifted easily into talk about artificial methods of dispelling
darkness. Then somebody remembered that when Farragut advanced upon
Port Hudson on a dark night--and did not wish to assist the aim of the
Confederate gunners--he carried no battle-lanterns, but painted the
decks of his ships white, and thus created a dim but valuable light,
which enabled his own men to grope their way around with considerable
facility. At this point the war got the floor again--the ten minutes not
quite up yet.

I was not sorry, for war talk by men who have been in a war is always
interesting; whereas moon talk by a poet who has not been in the moon is
likely to be dull.

We went to a cockpit in New Orleans on a Saturday afternoon. I had never
seen a cock-fight before. There were men and boys there of all ages and
all colors, and of many languages and nationalities. But I noticed one
quite conspicuous and surprising absence: the traditional brutal faces.
There were no brutal faces. With no cock-fighting going on, you could
have played the gathering on a stranger for a prayer-meeting; and after
it began, for a revival--provided you blindfolded your stranger--for the
shouting was something prodigious.

A negro and a white man were in the ring; everybody else outside. The
cocks were brought in in sacks; and when time was called, they were
taken out by the two bottle-holders, stroked, caressed, poked toward
each other, and finally liberated. The big black cock plunged instantly
at the little gray one and struck him on the head with his spur. The
gray responded with spirit. Then the Babel of many-tongued shoutings
broke out, and ceased not thenceforth. When the cocks had been fighting
some little time, I was expecting them momently to drop dead, for both
were blind, red with blood, and so exhausted that they frequently fell
down. Yet they would not give up, neither would they die. The negro and
the white man would pick them up every few seconds, wipe them off, blow
cold water on them in a fine spray, and take their heads in their mouths
and hold them there a moment--to warm back the perishing life perhaps; I
do not know. Then, being set down again, the dying creatures would
totter gropingly about, with dragging wings, find each other, strike a
guesswork blow or two, and fall exhausted once more.

I did not see the end of the battle. I forced myself to endure it as
long as I could, but it was too pitiful a sight; so I made frank
confession to that effect, and we retired. We heard afterward that the
black cock died in the ring, and fighting to the last.

Evidently there is abundant fascination about this 'sport' for such as
have had a degree of familiarity with it. I never saw people enjoy
anything more than this gathering enjoyed this fight. The case was the
same with old gray-heads and with boys of ten. They lost themselves in
frenzies of delight. The 'cocking-main' is an inhuman sort of
entertainment, there is no question about that; still, it seems a much
more respectable and far less cruel sport than fox-hunting--for the
cocks like it; they experience, as well as confer enjoyment; which is
not the fox's case.

We assisted--in the French sense--at a mule race, one day. I believe I
enjoyed this contest more than any other mule there. I enjoyed it more
than I remember having enjoyed any other animal race I ever saw. The
grand-stand was well filled with the beauty and the chivalry of New
Orleans. That phrase is not original with me. It is the Southern
reporter's. He has used it for two generations. He uses it twenty times
a day, or twenty thousand times a day; or a million times a day--
according to the exigencies. He is obliged to use it a million times a
day, if he have occasion to speak of respectable men and women that
often; for he has no other phrase for such service except that single
one. He never tires of it; it always has a fine sound to him. There is a
kind of swell medieval bulliness and tinsel about it that pleases his
gaudy barbaric soul. If he had been in Palestine in the early times, we
should have had no references to 'much people' out of him. No, he would
have said 'the beauty and the chivalry of Galilee' assembled to hear the
Sermon on the Mount. It is likely that the men and women of the South
are sick enough of that phrase by this time, and would like a change,
but there is no immediate prospect of their getting it.

The New Orleans editor has a strong, compact, direct, unflowery style;
wastes no words, and does not gush. Not so with his average
correspondent. In the Appendix I have quoted a good letter, penned by a
trained hand; but the average correspondent hurls a style which differs
from that. For instance--

The 'Times-Democrat' sent a relief-steamer up one of the bayous, last
April. This steamer landed at a village, up there somewhere, and the
Captain invited some of the ladies of the village to make a short trip
with him. They accepted and came aboard, and the steamboat shoved out up
the creek. That was all there was 'to it.' And that is all that the
editor of the 'Times-Democrat' would have got out of it. There was
nothing in the thing but statistics, and he would have got nothing else
out of it. He would probably have even tabulated them, partly to secure
perfect clearness of statement, and partly to save space. But his
special correspondent knows other methods of handling statistics. He
just throws off all restraint and wallows in them--

'On Saturday, early in the morning, the beauty of the place graced our
cabin, and proud of her fair freight the gallant little boat glided up
the bayou.'

Twenty-two words to say the ladies came aboard and the boat shoved out
up the creek, is a clean waste of ten good words, and is also
destructive of compactness of statement.

The trouble with the Southern reporter is--Women. They unsettle him;
they throw him off his balance. He is plain, and sensible, and
satisfactory, until a woman heaves in sight. Then he goes all to
pieces; his mind totters, he becomes flowery and idiotic. From reading
the above extract, you would imagine that this student of Sir Walter
Scott is an apprentice, and knows next to nothing about handling a pen.
On the contrary, he furnishes plenty of proofs, in his long letter, that
he knows well enough how to handle it when the women are not around to
give him the artificial-flower complaint. For instance--

'At 4 o'clock ominous clouds began to gather in the south-east, and
presently from the Gulf there came a blow which increased in severity
every moment. It was not safe to leave the landing then, and there was a
delay. The oaks shook off long tresses of their mossy beards to the
tugging of the wind, and the bayou in its ambition put on miniature
waves in mocking of much larger bodies of water. A lull permitted a
start, and homewards we steamed, an inky sky overhead and a heavy wind
blowing. As darkness crept on, there were few on board who did not wish
themselves nearer home.'

There is nothing the matter with that. It is good description,
compactly put. Yet there was great temptation, there, to drop into
lurid writing.

But let us return to the mule. Since I left him, I have rummaged around
and found a full report of the race. In it I find confirmation of the
theory which I broached just now--namely, that the trouble with the
Southern reporter is Women: Women, supplemented by Walter Scott and his
knights and beauty and chivalry, and so on. This is an excellent report,
as long as the women stay out of it. But when they intrude, we have this
frantic result--

'It will be probably a long time before the ladies' stand presents such
a sea of foam-like loveliness as it did yesterday. The New Orleans
women are always charming, but never so much so as at this time of the
year, when in their dainty spring costumes they bring with them a
breath of balmy freshness and an odor of sanctity unspeakable. The stand
was so crowded with them that, walking at their feet and seeing no
possibility of approach, many a man appreciated as he never did before
the Peri's feeling at the Gates of Paradise, and wondered what was the
priceless boon that would admit him to their sacred presence. Sparkling
on their white-robed breasts or shoulders were the colors of their
favorite knights, and were it not for the fact that the doughty heroes
appeared on unromantic mules, it would have been easy to imagine one of
King Arthur's gala-days.'

There were thirteen mules in the first heat; all sorts of mules, they
were; all sorts of complexions, gaits, dispositions, aspects. Some were
handsome creatures, some were not; some were sleek, some hadn't had
their fur brushed lately; some were innocently gay and frisky; some were
full of malice and all unrighteousness; guessing from looks, some of
them thought the matter on hand was war, some thought it was a lark, the
rest took it for a religious occasion. And each mule acted according to
his convictions. The result was an absence of harmony well compensated
by a conspicuous presence of variety--variety of a picturesque and
entertaining sort.

All the riders were young gentlemen in fashionable society. If the
reader has been wondering why it is that the ladies of New Orleans
attend so humble an orgy as a mule-race, the thing is explained now. It
is a fashion-freak; all connected with it are people of fashion.

It is great fun, and cordially liked. The mule-race is one of the
marked occasions of the year. It has brought some pretty fast mules to
the front. One of these had to be ruled out, because he was so fast that
he turned the thing into a one-mule contest, and robbed it of one of its
best features--variety. But every now and then somebody disguises him
with a new name and a new complexion, and rings him in again.

The riders dress in full jockey costumes of bright-colored silks,
satins, and velvets.

The thirteen mules got away in a body, after a couple of false starts,
and scampered off with prodigious spirit. As each mule and each rider
had a distinct opinion of his own as to how the race ought to be run,
and which side of the track was best in certain circumstances, and how
often the track ought to be crossed, and when a collision ought to be
accomplished, and when it ought to be avoided, these twenty-six
conflicting opinions created a most fantastic and picturesque confusion,
and the resulting spectacle was killingly comical.

Mile heat; time 2:22. Eight of the thirteen mules distanced. I had a bet
on a mule which would have won if the procession had been reversed. The
second heat was good fun; and so was the 'consolation race for beaten
mules,' which followed later; but the first heat was the best in that

I think that much the most enjoyable of all races is a steamboat race;
but, next to that, I prefer the gay and joyous mule-rush. Two red-hot
steamboats raging along, neck-and-neck, straining every nerve--that is
to say, every rivet in the boilers--quaking and shaking and groaning
from stem to stern, spouting white steam from the pipes, pouring black
smoke from the chimneys, raining down sparks, parting the river into
long breaks of hissing foam--this is sport that makes a body's very
liver curl with enjoyment. A horse-race is pretty tame and colorless in
comparison. Still, a horse-race might be well enough, in its way,
perhaps, if it were not for the tiresome false starts. But then, nobody
is ever killed. At least, nobody was ever killed when I was at a horse-
race. They have been crippled, it is true; but this is little to the

Chapter 46 Enchantments and Enchanters

THE largest annual event in New Orleans is a something which we arrived
too late to sample--the Mardi-Gras festivities. I saw the procession of
the Mystic Crew of Comus there, twenty-four years ago--with knights and
nobles and so on, clothed in silken and golden Paris-made
gorgeousnesses, planned and bought for that single night's use; and in
their train all manner of giants, dwarfs, monstrosities, and other
diverting grotesquerie--a startling and wonderful sort of show, as it
filed solemnly and silently down the street in the light of its smoking
and flickering torches; but it is said that in these latter days the
spectacle is mightily augmented, as to cost, splendor, and variety.
There is a chief personage--'Rex;' and if I remember rightly, neither
this king nor any of his great following of subordinates is known to any
outsider. All these people are gentlemen of position and consequence;
and it is a proud thing to belong to the organization; so the mystery in
which they hide their personality is merely for romance's sake, and not
on account of the police.

Mardi-Gras is of course a relic of the French and Spanish occupation;
but I judge that the religious feature has been pretty well knocked out
of it now. Sir Walter has got the advantage of the gentlemen of the cowl
and rosary, and he will stay. His medieval business, supplemented by
the monsters and the oddities, and the pleasant creatures from fairy-
land, is finer to look at than the poor fantastic inventions and
performances of the reveling rabble of the priest's day, and serves
quite as well, perhaps, to emphasize the day and admonish men that the
grace-line between the worldly season and the holy one is reached.

This Mardi-Gras pageant was the exclusive possession of New Orleans
until recently. But now it has spread to Memphis and St. Louis and
Baltimore. It has probably reached its limit. It is a thing which could
hardly exist in the practical North; would certainly last but a very
brief time; as brief a time as it would last in London. For the soul of
it is the romantic, not the funny and the grotesque. Take away the
romantic mysteries, the kings and knights and big-sounding titles, and
Mardi-Gras would die, down there in the South. The very feature that
keeps it alive in the South--girly-girly romance--would kill it in the
North or in London. Puck and Punch, and the press universal, would fall
upon it and make merciless fun of it, and its first exhibition would be
also its last.

Against the crimes of the French Revolution and of Bonaparte may be set
two compensating benefactions: the Revolution broke the chains of the
ANCIEN REGIME and of the Church, and made of a nation of abject slaves a
nation of freemen; and Bonaparte instituted the setting of merit above
birth, and also so completely stripped the divinity from royalty, that
whereas crowned heads in Europe were gods before, they are only men,
since, and can never be gods again, but only figureheads, and answerable
for their acts like common clay. Such benefactions as these compensate
the temporary harm which Bonaparte and the Revolution did, and leave the
world in debt to them for these great and permanent services to liberty,
humanity, and progress.

Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single
might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the
world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms
of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the
sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham
chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did
measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other
individual that ever wrote. Most of the world has now outlived good
part of these harms, though by no means all of them; but in our South
they flourish pretty forcefully still. Not so forcefully as half a
generation ago, perhaps, but still forcefully. There, the genuine and
wholesome civilization of the nineteenth century is curiously confused
and commingled with the Walter Scott Middle-Age sham civilization; and
so you have practical, common-sense, progressive ideas, and progressive
works; mixed up with the duel, the inflated speech, and the jejune
romanticism of an absurd past that is dead, and out of charity ought to
be buried. But for the Sir Walter disease, the character of the
Southerner--or Southron, according to Sir Walter's starchier way of
phrasing it--would be wholly modern, in place of modern and medieval
mixed, and the South would be fully a generation further advanced than
it is. It was Sir Walter that made every gentleman in the South a Major
or a Colonel, or a General or a Judge, before the war; and it was he,
also, that made these gentlemen value these bogus decorations. For it
was he that created rank and caste down there, and also reverence for
rank and caste, and pride and pleasure in them. Enough is laid on
slavery, without fathering upon it these creations and contributions of
Sir Walter.

Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it
existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the
war. It seems a little harsh toward a dead man to say that we never
should have had any war but for Sir Walter; and yet something of a
plausible argument might, perhaps, be made in support of that wild
proposition. The Southerner of the American Revolution owned slaves; so
did the Southerner of the Civil War: but the former resembles the latter
as an Englishman resembles a Frenchman. The change of character can be
traced rather more easily to Sir Walter's influence than to that of any
other thing or person.

One may observe, by one or two signs, how deeply that influence
penetrated, and how strongly it holds. If one take up a Northern or
Southern literary periodical of forty or fifty years ago, he will find
it filled with wordy, windy, flowery 'eloquence,' romanticism,
sentimentality--all imitated from Sir Walter, and sufficiently badly
done, too--innocent travesties of his style and methods, in fact. This
sort of literature being the fashion in both sections of the country,
there was opportunity for the fairest competition; and as a consequence,
the South was able to show as many well-known literary names,
proportioned to population, as the North could.

But a change has come, and there is no opportunity now for a fair
competition between North and South. For the North has thrown out that
old inflated style, whereas the Southern writer still clings to it--
clings to it and has a restricted market for his wares, as a
consequence. There is as much literary talent in the South, now, as ever
there was, of course; but its work can gain but slight currency under
present conditions; the authors write for the past, not the present;
they use obsolete forms, and a dead language. But when a Southerner of
genius writes modern English, his book goes upon crutches no longer, but
upon wings; and they carry it swiftly all about America and England, and
through the great English reprint publishing houses of Germany--as
witness the experience of Mr. Cable and Uncle Remus, two of the very few
Southern authors who do not write in the Southern style. Instead of
three or four widely-known literary names, the South ought to have a
dozen or two--and will have them when Sir Walter's time is out.

A curious exemplification of the power of a single book for good or harm
is shown in the effects wrought by 'Don Quixote' and those wrought by
'Ivanhoe.' The first swept the world's admiration for the medieval
chivalry-silliness out of existence; and the other restored it. As far
as our South is concerned, the good work done by Cervantes is pretty
nearly a dead letter, so effectually has Scott's pernicious work
undermined it.

Chapter 47 Uncle Remus and Mr. Cable

MR. JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS ('Uncle Remus') was to arrive from Atlanta at
seven o'clock Sunday morning; so we got up and received him. We were
able to detect him among the crowd of arrivals at the hotel-counter by
his correspondence with a description of him which had been furnished us
from a trustworthy source. He was said to be undersized, red-haired, and
somewhat freckled. He was the only man in the party whose outside
tallied with this bill of particulars. He was said to be very shy. He
is a shy man. Of this there is no doubt. It may not show on the
surface, but the shyness is there. After days of intimacy one wonders
to see that it is still in about as strong force as ever. There is a
fine and beautiful nature hidden behind it, as all know who have read
the Uncle Remus book; and a fine genius, too, as all know by the same
sign. I seem to be talking quite freely about this neighbor; but in
talking to the public I am but talking to his personal friends, and
these things are permissible among friends.

He deeply disappointed a number of children who had flocked eagerly to
Mr. Cable's house to get a glimpse of the illustrious sage and oracle of
the nation's nurseries. They said--

'Why, he 's white!'

They were grieved about it. So, to console them, the book was brought,
that they might hear Uncle Remus's Tar-Baby story from the lips of Uncle
Remus himself--or what, in their outraged eyes, was left of him. But it
turned out that he had never read aloud to people, and was too shy to
venture the attempt now. Mr. Cable and I read from books of ours, to
show him what an easy trick it was; but his immortal shyness was proof
against even this sagacious strategy, so we had to read about Brer
Rabbit ourselves.

Mr. Harris ought to be able to read the negro dialect better than
anybody else, for in the matter of writing it he is the only master the
country has produced. Mr. Cable is the only master in the writing of
French dialects that the country has produced; and he reads them in
perfection. It was a great treat to hear him read about Jean-ah
Poquelin, and about Innerarity and his famous 'pigshoo' representing
'Louisihanna RIF-fusing to Hanter the Union,' along with passages of
nicely-shaded German dialect from a novel which was still in manuscript.

It came out in conversation, that in two different instances Mr. Cable
got into grotesque trouble by using, in his books, next-to-impossible
French names which nevertheless happened to be borne by living and
sensitive citizens of New Orleans. His names were either inventions or
were borrowed from the ancient and obsolete past, I do not now remember
which; but at any rate living bearers of them turned up, and were a good
deal hurt at having attention directed to themselves and their affairs
in so excessively public a manner.

Mr. Warner and I had an experience of the same sort when we wrote the
book called 'The Gilded Age.' There is a character in it called
'Sellers.' I do not remember what his first name was, in the beginning;
but anyway, Mr. Warner did not like it, and wanted it improved. He asked
me if I was able to imagine a person named 'Eschol Sellers.' Of course I
said I could not, without stimulants. He said that away out West, once,
he had met, and contemplated, and actually shaken hands with a man
bearing that impossible name--'Eschol Sellers.' He added--

'It was twenty years ago; his name has probably carried him off before
this; and if it hasn't, he will never see the book anyhow. We will
confiscate his name. The name you are using is common, and therefore
dangerous; there are probably a thousand Sellerses bearing it, and the
whole horde will come after us; but Eschol Sellers is a safe name--it is
a rock.'

So we borrowed that name; and when the book had been out about a week,
one of the stateliest and handsomest and most aristocratic looking white
men that ever lived, called around, with the most formidable libel suit
in his pocket that ever--well, in brief, we got his permission to
suppress an edition of ten million {footnote [Figures taken from memory,
and probably incorrect. Think it was more.]} copies of the book and
change that name to 'Mulberry Sellers' in future editions.

Chapter 48 Sugar and Postage

ONE day, on the street, I encountered the man whom, of all men, I most
wished to see--Horace Bixby; formerly pilot under me--or rather, over
me--now captain of the great steamer 'City of Baton Rouge,' the latest
and swiftest addition to the Anchor Line. The same slender figure, the
same tight curls, the same springy step, the same alertness, the same
decision of eye and answering decision of hand, the same erect military
bearing; not an inch gained or lost in girth, not an ounce gained or
lost in weight, not a hair turned. It is a curious thing, to leave a man
thirty-five years old, and come back at the end of twenty-one years and
find him still only thirty-five. I have not had an experience of this
kind before, I believe. There were some crow's-feet, but they counted
for next to nothing, since they were inconspicuous.

His boat was just in. I had been waiting several days for her,
purposing to return to St. Louis in her. The captain and I joined a
party of ladies and gentlemen, guests of Major Wood, and went down the
river fifty-four miles, in a swift tug, to ex-Governor Warmouth's sugar
plantation. Strung along below the city, were a number of decayed, ram-
shackly, superannuated old steamboats, not one of which had I ever seen
before. They had all been built, and worn out, and thrown aside, since I
was here last. This gives one a realizing sense of the frailness of a
Mississippi boat and the briefness of its life.

Six miles below town a fat and battered brick chimney, sticking above
the magnolias and live-oaks, was pointed out as the monument erected by
an appreciative nation to celebrate the battle of New Orleans--Jackson's
victory over the British, January 8, 1815. The war had ended, the two
nations were at peace, but the news had not yet reached New Orleans. If
we had had the cable telegraph in those days, this blood would not have
been spilt, those lives would not have been wasted; and better still,
Jackson would probably never have been president. We have gotten over
the harms done us by the war of 1812, but not over some of those done us
by Jackson's presidency.

The Warmouth plantation covers a vast deal of ground, and the
hospitality of the Warmouth mansion is graduated to the same large
scale. We saw steam-plows at work, here, for the first time. The
traction engine travels about on its own wheels, till it reaches the
required spot; then it stands still and by means of a wire rope pulls
the huge plow toward itself two or three hundred yards across the field,
between the rows of cane. The thing cuts down into the black mold a foot
and a half deep. The plow looks like a fore-and-aft brace of a Hudson
river steamer, inverted. When the negro steersman sits on one end of it,
that end tilts down near the ground, while the other sticks up high in
air. This great see-saw goes rolling and pitching like a ship at sea,
and it is not every circus rider that could stay on it.

The plantation contains two thousand six hundred acres; six hundred and
fifty are in cane; and there is a fruitful orange grove of five thousand
trees. The cane is cultivated after a modern and intricate scientific
fashion, too elaborate and complex for me to attempt to describe; but it
lost $40,000 last year. I forget the other details. However, this
year's crop will reach ten or twelve hundred tons of sugar, consequently
last year's loss will not matter. These troublesome and expensive
scientific methods achieve a yield of a ton and a half and from that to
two tons, to the acre; which is three or four times what the yield of an
acre was in my time.

The drainage-ditches were everywhere alive with little crabs--
'fiddlers.' One saw them scampering sidewise in every direction
whenever they heard a disturbing noise. Expensive pests, these crabs;
for they bore into the levees, and ruin them.

The great sugar-house was a wilderness of tubs and tanks and vats and
filters, pumps, pipes, and machinery. The process of making sugar is
exceedingly interesting. First, you heave your cane into the
centrifugals and grind out the juice; then run it through the
evaporating pan to extract the fiber; then through the bone-filter to
remove the alcohol; then through the clarifying tanks to discharge the
molasses; then through the granulating pipe to condense it; then through
the vacuum pan to extract the vacuum. It is now ready for market. I
have jotted these particulars down from memory. The thing looks simple
and easy. Do not deceive yourself. To make sugar is really one of the
most difficult things in the world. And to make it right, is next to
impossible. If you will examine your own supply every now and then for a
term of years, and tabulate the result, you will find that not two men
in twenty can make sugar without getting sand into it.

We could have gone down to the mouth of the river and visited Captain
Eads' great work, the 'jetties,' where the river has been compressed
between walls, and thus deepened to twenty-six feet; but it was voted
useless to go, since at this stage of the water everything would be
covered up and invisible.

We could have visited that ancient and singular burg, 'Pilot-town,'
which stands on stilts in the water--so they say; where nearly all
communication is by skiff and canoe, even to the attending of weddings
and funerals; and where the littlest boys and girls are as handy with
the oar as unamphibious children are with the velocipede.

We could have done a number of other things; but on account of limited
time, we went back home. The sail up the breezy and sparkling river was
a charming experience, and would have been satisfyingly sentimental and
romantic but for the interruptions of the tug's pet parrot, whose
tireless comments upon the scenery and the guests were always this-
worldly, and often profane. He had also a superabundance of the
discordant, ear-splitting, metallic laugh common to his breed--a
machine-made laugh, a Frankenstein laugh, with the soul left out of it.
He applied it to every sentimental remark, and to every pathetic song.
He cackled it out with hideous energy after 'Home again, home again from
a foreign shore,' and said he 'wouldn't give a damn for a tug-load of
such rot.' Romance and sentiment cannot long survive this sort of
discouragement; so the singing and talking presently ceased; which so
delighted the parrot that he cursed himself hoarse for joy.

Then the male members of the party moved to the forecastle, to smoke and
gossip. There were several old steamboatmen along, and I learned from
them a great deal of what had been happening to my former river friends
during my long absence. I learned that a pilot whom I used to steer for
is become a spiritualist, and for more than fifteen years has been
receiving a letter every week from a deceased relative, through a New
York spiritualist medium named Manchester--postage graduated by
distance: from the local post-office in Paradise to New York, five
dollars; from New York to St. Louis, three cents. I remember Mr.
Manchester very well. I called on him once, ten years ago, with a couple
of friends, one of whom wished to inquire after a deceased uncle. This
uncle had lost his life in a peculiarly violent and unusual way, half a
dozen years before: a cyclone blew him some three miles and knocked a
tree down with him which was four feet through at the butt and sixty-
five feet high. He did not survive this triumph. At the seance just
referred to, my friend questioned his late uncle, through Mr.
Manchester, and the late uncle wrote down his replies, using Mr.
Manchester's hand and pencil for that purpose. The following is a fair
example of the questions asked, and also of the sloppy twaddle in the
way of answers, furnished by Manchester under the pretense that it came
from the specter. If this man is not the paltriest fraud that lives, I
owe him an apology--

QUESTION. Where are you?

ANSWER. In the spirit world.

Q. Are you happy?

A. Very happy. Perfectly happy.

Q. How do you amuse yourself?

A. Conversation with friends, and other spirits.

Q. What else?

A. Nothing else. Nothing else is necessary.

Q. What do you talk about?

A. About how happy we are; and about friends left behind in the earth,
and how to influence them for their good.

Q. When your friends in the earth all get to the spirit land, what shall
you have to talk about then?--nothing but about how happy you all are?

No reply. It is explained that spirits will not answer frivolous

Q. How is it that spirits that are content to spend an eternity in
frivolous employments, and accept it as happiness, are so fastidious
about frivolous questions upon the subject?

No reply.

Q. Would you like to come back?

A. No.

Q. Would you say that under oath?

A. Yes.

Q. What do you eat there?

A. We do not eat.

Q. What do you drink?

A. We do not drink.

Q. What do you smoke?

A. We do not smoke.

Q. What do you read?

A. We do not read.

Q. Do all the good people go to your place?

A. Yes.

Q. You know my present way of life. Can you suggest any additions to
it, in the way of crime, that will reasonably insure my going to some
other place.

A. No reply.

Q. When did you die?

A. I did not die, I passed away.

Q. Very well, then, when did you pass away? How long have you been in
the spirit land?

A. We have no measurements of time here.

Q. Though you may be indifferent and uncertain as to dates and times in
your present condition and environment, this has nothing to do with your
former condition. You had dates then. One of these is what I ask for.
You departed on a certain day in a certain year. Is not this true?

A. Yes.

Q. Then name the day of the month.

(Much fumbling with pencil, on the part of the medium, accompanied by
violent spasmodic jerkings of his head and body, for some little time.
Finally, explanation to the effect that spirits often forget dates, such
things being without importance to them.)

Q. Then this one has actually forgotten the date of its translation to
the spirit land?

This was granted to be the case.

Q. This is very curious. Well, then, what year was it?

(More fumbling, jerking, idiotic spasms, on the part of the medium.
Finally, explanation to the effect that the spirit has forgotten the

Q. This is indeed stupendous. Let me put one more question, one last
question, to you, before we part to meet no more;--for even if I fail to
avoid your asylum, a meeting there will go for nothing as a meeting,
since by that time you will easily have forgotten me and my name: did
you die a natural death, or were you cut off by a catastrophe?

A. (After long hesitation and many throes and spasms.) NATURAL DEATH.

This ended the interview. My friend told the medium that when his
relative was in this poor world, he was endowed with an extraordinary
intellect and an absolutely defectless memory, and it seemed a great
pity that he had not been allowed to keep some shred of these for his
amusement in the realms of everlasting contentment, and for the
amazement and admiration of the rest of the population there.

This man had plenty of clients--has plenty yet. He receives letters
from spirits located in every part of the spirit world, and delivers
them all over this country through the United States mail. These letters
are filled with advice--advice from 'spirits' who don't know as much as
a tadpole--and this advice is religiously followed by the receivers.
One of these clients was a man whom the spirits (if one may thus
plurally describe the ingenious Manchester) were teaching how to
contrive an improved railway car-wheel. It is coarse employment for a
spirit, but it is higher and wholesomer activity than talking for ever
about 'how happy we are.'

Chapter 49 Episodes in Pilot Life

IN the course of the tug-boat gossip, it came out that out of every five
of my former friends who had quitted the river, four had chosen farming
as an occupation. Of course this was not because they were peculiarly
gifted, agriculturally, and thus more likely to succeed as farmers than
in other industries: the reason for their choice must be traced to some
other source. Doubtless they chose farming because that life is private
and secluded from irruptions of undesirable strangers--like the pilot-
house hermitage. And doubtless they also chose it because on a thousand
nights of black storm and danger they had noted the twinkling lights of
solitary farm-houses, as the boat swung by, and pictured to themselves
the serenity and security and coziness of such refuges at such times,
and so had by-and-bye come to dream of that retired and peaceful life as
the one desirable thing to long for, anticipate, earn, and at last

But I did not learn that any of these pilot-farmers had astonished
anybody with their successes. Their farms do not support them: they
support their farms. The pilot-farmer disappears from the river
annually, about the breaking of spring, and is seen no more till next
frost. Then he appears again, in damaged homespun, combs the hayseed out
of his hair, and takes a pilot-house berth for the winter. In this way
he pays the debts which his farming has achieved during the agricultural
season. So his river bondage is but half broken; he is still the
river's slave the hardest half of the year.

One of these men bought a farm, but did not retire to it. He knew a
trick worth two of that. He did not propose to pauperize his farm by
applying his personal ignorance to working it. No, he put the farm into
the hands of an agricultural expert to be worked on shares--out of every
three loads of corn the expert to have two and the pilot the third. But
at the end of the season the pilot received no corn. The expert
explained that his share was not reached. The farm produced only two

Some of the pilots whom I had known had had adventures--the outcome
fortunate, sometimes, but not in all cases. Captain Montgomery, whom I
had steered for when he was a pilot, commanded the Confederate fleet in
the great battle before Memphis; when his vessel went down, he swam
ashore, fought his way through a squad of soldiers, and made a gallant
and narrow escape. He was always a cool man; nothing could disturb his
serenity. Once when he was captain of the 'Crescent City,' I was
bringing the boat into port at New Orleans, and momently expecting
orders from the hurricane deck, but received none. I had stopped the
wheels, and there my authority and responsibility ceased. It was
evening--dim twilight--the captain's hat was perched upon the big bell,
and I supposed the intellectual end of the captain was in it, but such
was not the case. The captain was very strict; therefore I knew better
than to touch a bell without orders. My duty was to hold the boat
steadily on her calamitous course, and leave the consequences to take
care of themselves--which I did. So we went plowing past the sterns of
steamboats and getting closer and closer--the crash was bound to come
very soon--and still that hat never budged; for alas, the captain was
napping in the texas.... Things were becoming exceedingly nervous and
uncomfortable. It seemed to me that the captain was not going to appear
in time to see the entertainment. But he did. Just as we were walking
into the stern of a steamboat, he stepped out on deck, and said, with
heavenly serenity, 'Set her back on both'--which I did; but a trifle
late, however, for the next moment we went smashing through that other
boat's flimsy outer works with a most prodigious racket. The captain
never said a word to me about the matter afterwards, except to remark
that I had done right, and that he hoped I would not hesitate to act in
the same way again in like circumstances.

One of the pilots whom I had known when I was on the river had died a
very honorable death. His boat caught fire, and he remained at the
wheel until he got her safe to land. Then he went out over the breast-
board with his clothing in flames, and was the last person to get
ashore. He died from his injuries in the course of two or three hours,
and his was the only life lost.

The history of Mississippi piloting affords six or seven instances of
this sort of martyrdom, and half a hundred instances of escapes from a
like fate which came within a second or two of being fatally too late;
DESTRUCTION. It is well worth while to set down this noble fact, and
well worth while to put it in italics, too.

The 'cub' pilot is early admonished to despise all perils connected with
a pilot's calling, and to prefer any sort of death to the deep dishonor
of deserting his post while there is any possibility of his being useful
in it. And so effectively are these admonitions inculcated, that even
young and but half-tried pilots can be depended upon to stick to the
wheel, and die there when occasion requires. In a Memphis graveyard is
buried a young fellow who perished at the wheel a great many years ago,
in White River, to save the lives of other men. He said to the captain
that if the fire would give him time to reach a sand bar, some distance
away, all could be saved, but that to land against the bluff bank of the
river would be to insure the loss of many lives. He reached the bar and
grounded the boat in shallow water; but by that time the flames had
closed around him, and in escaping through them he was fatally burned.
He had been urged to fly sooner, but had replied as became a pilot to

'I will not go. If I go, nobody will be saved; if I stay, no one will
be lost but me. I will stay.'

There were two hundred persons on board, and no life was lost but the
pilot's. There used to be a monument to this young fellow, in that
Memphis graveyard. While we tarried in Memphis on our down trip, I
started out to look for it, but our time was so brief that I was obliged
to turn back before my object was accomplished.

The tug-boat gossip informed me that Dick Kennet was dead--blown up,
near Memphis, and killed; that several others whom I had known had
fallen in the war--one or two of them shot down at the wheel; that
another and very particular friend, whom I had steered many trips for,
had stepped out of his house in New Orleans, one night years ago, to
collect some money in a remote part of the city, and had never been seen
again--was murdered and thrown into the river, it was thought; that Ben
Thornburgh was dead long ago; also his wild 'cub' whom I used to quarrel
with, all through every daylight watch. A heedless, reckless creature
he was, and always in hot water, always in mischief. An Arkansas
passenger brought an enormous bear aboard, one day, and chained him to a
life-boat on the hurricane deck. Thornburgh's 'cub' could not rest till
he had gone there and unchained the bear, to 'see what he would do.' He
was promptly gratified. The bear chased him around and around the deck,
for miles and miles, with two hundred eager faces grinning through the
railings for audience, and finally snatched off the lad's coat-tail and
went into the texas to chew it. The off-watch turned out with alacrity,
and left the bear in sole possession. He presently grew lonesome, and
started out for recreation. He ranged the whole boat--visited every part
of it, with an advance guard of fleeing people in front of him and a
voiceless vacancy behind him; and when his owner captured him at last,
those two were the only visible beings anywhere; everybody else was in
hiding, and the boat was a solitude.

I was told that one of my pilot friends fell dead at the wheel, from
heart disease, in 1869. The captain was on the roof at the time. He saw
the boat breaking for the shore; shouted, and got no answer; ran up, and
found the pilot lying dead on the floor.

Mr. Bixby had been blown up, in Madrid bend; was not injured, but the
other pilot was lost.

George Ritchie had been blown up near Memphis--blown into the river from
the wheel, and disabled. The water was very cold; he clung to a cotton
bale--mainly with his teeth--and floated until nearly exhausted, when he
was rescued by some deck hands who were on a piece of the wreck. They
tore open the bale and packed him in the cotton, and warmed the life
back into him, and got him safe to Memphis. He is one of Bixby's pilots
on the 'Baton Rouge' now.

Into the life of a steamboat clerk, now dead, had dropped a bit of
romance--somewhat grotesque romance, but romance nevertheless. When I
knew him he was a shiftless young spendthrift, boisterous, goodhearted,
full of careless generosities, and pretty conspicuously promising to
fool his possibilities away early, and come to nothing. In a Western
city lived a rich and childless old foreigner and his wife; and in their
family was a comely young girl--sort of friend, sort of servant. The
young clerk of whom I have been speaking--whose name was not George
Johnson, but who shall be called George Johnson for the purposes of this
narrative--got acquainted with this young girl, and they sinned; and the
old foreigner found them out, and rebuked them. Being ashamed, they
lied, and said they were married; that they had been privately married.
Then the old foreigner's hurt was healed, and he forgave and blessed
them. After that, they were able to continue their sin without
concealment. By-and-bye the foreigner's wife died; and presently he
followed after her. Friends of the family assembled to mourn; and among
the mourners sat the two young sinners. The will was opened and
solemnly read. It bequeathed every penny of that old man's great wealth

And there was no such person. The young sinners fled forth then, and
did a very foolish thing: married themselves before an obscure Justice
of the Peace, and got him to antedate the thing. That did no sort of
good. The distant relatives flocked in and exposed the fraudful date
with extreme suddenness and surprising ease, and carried off the
fortune, leaving the Johnsons very legitimately, and legally, and
irrevocably chained together in honorable marriage, but with not so much
as a penny to bless themselves withal. Such are the actual facts; and
not all novels have for a base so telling a situation.

Chapter 50 The 'Original Jacobs'

WE had some talk about Captain Isaiah Sellers, now many years dead. He
was a fine man, a high-minded man, and greatly respected both ashore and
on the river. He was very tall, well built, and handsome; and in his
old age--as I remember him--his hair was as black as an Indian's, and
his eye and hand were as strong and steady and his nerve and judgment as
firm and clear as anybody's, young or old, among the fraternity of
pilots. He was the patriarch of the craft; he had been a keelboat pilot
before the day of steamboats; and a steamboat pilot before any other
steamboat pilot, still surviving at the time I speak of, had ever turned
a wheel. Consequently his brethren held him in the sort of awe in which
illustrious survivors of a bygone age are always held by their
associates. He knew how he was regarded, and perhaps this fact added
some trifle of stiffening to his natural dignity, which had been
sufficiently stiff in its original state.

He left a diary behind him; but apparently it did not date back to his
first steamboat trip, which was said to be 1811, the year the first
steamboat disturbed the waters of the Mississippi. At the time of his
death a correspondent of the 'St. Louis Republican' culled the following
items from the diary--

'In February, 1825, he shipped on board the steamer "Rambler," at
Florence, Ala., and made during that year three trips to New Orleans and
back--this on the "Gen. Carrol," between Nashville and New Orleans. It
was during his stay on this boat that Captain Sellers introduced the tap
of the bell as a signal to heave the lead, previous to which time it was
the custom for the pilot to speak to the men below when soundings were
wanted. The proximity of the forecastle to the pilot-house, no doubt,
rendered this an easy matter; but how different on one of our palaces of
the present day.

'In 1827 we find him on board the "President," a boat of two hundred and
eighty-five tons burden, and plying between Smithland and New Orleans.
Thence he joined the "Jubilee" in 1828, and on this boat he did his
first piloting in the St. Louis trade; his first watch extending from
Herculaneum to St. Genevieve. On May 26, 1836, he completed and left
Pittsburgh in charge of the steamer "Prairie," a boat of four hundred
tons, and the first steamer with a STATE-ROOM CABIN ever seen at St.
Louis. In 1857 he introduced the signal for meeting boats, and which
has, with some slight change, been the universal custom of this day; in
fact, is rendered obligatory by act of Congress.

'As general items of river history, we quote the following marginal
notes from his general log--

'In March, 1825, Gen. Lafayette left New Orleans for St. Louis on the
low-pressure steamer "Natchez."

'In January, 1828, twenty-one steamers left the New Orleans wharf to
celebrate the occasion of Gen. Jackson's visit to that city.

'In 1830 the "North American" made the run from New Orleans to Memphis
in six days--best time on record to that date. It has since been made in
two days and ten hours.

'In 1831 the Red River cut-off formed.

'In 1832 steamer "Hudson" made the run from White River to Helena, a
distance of seventy-five miles, in twelve hours. This was the source of
much talk and speculation among parties directly interested.

'In 1839 Great Horseshoe cut-off formed.

'Up to the present time, a term of thirty-five years, we ascertain, by
reference to the diary, he has made four hundred and sixty round trips
to New Orleans, which gives a distance of one million one hundred and
four thousand miles, or an average of eighty-six miles a day.'

Whenever Captain Sellers approached a body of gossiping pilots, a chill
fell there, and talking ceased. For this reason: whenever six pilots
were gathered together, there would always be one or two newly fledged
ones in the lot, and the elder ones would be always 'showing off' before
these poor fellows; making them sorrowfully feel how callow they were,
how recent their nobility, and how humble their degree, by talking
largely and vaporously of old-time experiences on the river; always
making it a point to date everything back as far as they could, so as to
make the new men feel their newness to the sharpest degree possible, and
envy the old stagers in the like degree. And how these complacent
baldheads WOULD swell, and brag, and lie, and date back--ten, fifteen,
twenty years,--and how they did enjoy the effect produced upon the
marveling and envying youngsters!

And perhaps just at this happy stage of the proceedings, the stately
figure of Captain Isaiah Sellers, that real and only genuine Son of
Antiquity, would drift solemnly into the midst. Imagine the size of the
silence that would result on the instant. And imagine the feelings of
those bald-heads, and the exultation of their recent audience when the
ancient captain would begin to drop casual and indifferent remarks of a
reminiscent nature--about islands that had disappeared, and cutoffs that
had been made, a generation before the oldest bald-head in the company
had ever set his foot in a pilot-house!

Many and many a time did this ancient mariner appear on the scene in the
above fashion, and spread disaster and humiliation around him. If one
might believe the pilots, he always dated his islands back to the misty
dawn of river history; and he never used the same island twice; and
never did he employ an island that still existed, or give one a name
which anybody present was old enough to have heard of before. If you
might believe the pilots, he was always conscientiously particular about
little details; never spoke of 'the State of Mississippi,' for instance
--no, he would say, 'When the State of Mississippi was where Arkansas now
is,' and would never speak of Louisiana or Missouri in a general way,
and leave an incorrect impression on your mind--no, he would say, 'When
Louisiana was up the river farther,' or 'When Missouri was on the
Illinois side.'

The old gentleman was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used to
jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the
river, and sign them 'MARK TWAIN,' and give them to the 'New Orleans
Picayune.' They related to the stage and condition of the river, and
were accurate and valuable; and thus far, they contained no poison. But
in speaking of the stage of the river to-day, at a given point, the
captain was pretty apt to drop in a little remark about this being the
first time he had seen the water so high or so low at that particular
point for forty-nine years; and now and then he would mention Island So-
and-so, and follow it, in parentheses, with some such observation as
'disappeared in 1807, if I remember rightly.' In these antique
interjections lay poison and bitterness for the other old pilots, and
they used to chaff the 'Mark Twain' paragraphs with unsparing mockery.

It so chanced that one of these paragraphs--{footnote [The original MS.
of it, in the captain's own hand, has been sent to me from New Orleans.
It reads as follows--

VICKSBURG May 4, 1859.

'My opinion for the benefit of the citizens of New Orleans: The water is
higher this far up than it has been since 8. My opinion is that the
water will be feet deep in Canal street before the first of next June.
Mrs. Turner's plantation at the head of Big Black Island is all under
water, and it has not been since 1815.

'I. Sellers.']}

became the text for my first newspaper article. I burlesqued it
broadly, very broadly, stringing my fantastics out to the extent of
eight hundred or a thousand words. I was a 'cub' at the time. I showed
my performance to some pilots, and they eagerly rushed it into print in
the 'New Orleans True Delta.' It was a great pity; for it did nobody
any worthy service, and it sent a pang deep into a good man's heart.
There was no malice in my rubbish; but it laughed at the captain. It
laughed at a man to whom such a thing was new and strange and dreadful.
I did not know then, though I do now, that there is no suffering
comparable with that which a private person feels when he is for the
first time pilloried in print.

Captain Sellers did me the honor to profoundly detest me from that day
forth. When I say he did me the honor, I am not using empty words. It
was a very real honor to be in the thoughts of so great a man as Captain
Sellers, and I had wit enough to appreciate it and be proud of it. It
was distinction to be loved by such a man; but it was a much greater
distinction to be hated by him, because he loved scores of people; but
he didn't sit up nights to hate anybody but me.

He never printed another paragraph while he lived, and he never again
signed 'Mark Twain' to anything. At the time that the telegraph brought
the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new
journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient
mariner's discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it
was in his hands--a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found
in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I
have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say.

The captain had an honorable pride in his profession and an abiding love
for it. He ordered his monument before he died, and kept it near him
until he did die. It stands over his grave now, in Bellefontaine
cemetery, St. Louis. It is his image, in marble, standing on duty at the
pilot wheel; and worthy to stand and confront criticism, for it
represents a man who in life would have stayed there till he burned to a
cinder, if duty required it.

The finest thing we saw on our whole Mississippi trip, we saw as we
approached New Orleans in the steam-tug. This was the curving frontage
of the crescent city lit up with the white glare of five miles of
electric lights. It was a wonderful sight, and very beautiful.

Chapter 51 Reminiscences

WE left for St. Louis in the 'City of Baton Rouge,' on a delightfully
hot day, but with the main purpose of my visit but lamely accomplished.
I had hoped to hunt up and talk with a hundred steamboatmen, but got so
pleasantly involved in the social life of the town that I got nothing
more than mere five-minute talks with a couple of dozen of the craft.

I was on the bench of the pilot-house when we backed out and
'straightened up' for the start--the boat pausing for a 'good ready,' in
the old-fashioned way, and the black smoke piling out of the chimneys
equally in the old-fashioned way. Then we began to gather momentum, and
presently were fairly under way and booming along. It was all as natural
and familiar--and so were the shoreward sights--as if there had been no
break in my river life. There was a 'cub,' and I judged that he would
take the wheel now; and he did. Captain Bixby stepped into the pilot-
house. Presently the cub closed up on the rank of steamships. He made
me nervous, for he allowed too much water to show between our boat and
the ships. I knew quite well what was going to happen, because I could
date back in my own life and inspect the record. The captain looked on,
during a silent half-minute, then took the wheel himself, and crowded
the boat in, till she went scraping along within a hand-breadth of the
ships. It was exactly the favor which he had done me, about a quarter
of a century before, in that same spot, the first time I ever steamed
out of the port of New Orleans. It was a very great and sincere pleasure
to me to see the thing repeated--with somebody else as victim.

We made Natchez (three hundred miles) in twenty-two hours and a half--
much the swiftest passage I have ever made over that piece of water.

The next morning I came on with the four o'clock watch, and saw Ritchie
successfully run half a dozen crossings in a fog, using for his guidance
the marked chart devised and patented by Bixby and himself. This
sufficiently evidenced the great value of the chart.

By and by, when the fog began to clear off, I noticed that the
reflection of a tree in the smooth water of an overflowed bank, six
hundred yards away, was stronger and blacker than the ghostly tree
itself. The faint spectral trees, dimly glimpsed through the shredding
fog, were very pretty things to see.

We had a heavy thunder-storm at Natchez, another at Vicksburg, and still
another about fifty miles below Memphis. They had an old-fashioned
energy which had long been unfamiliar to me. This third storm was
accompanied by a raging wind. We tied up to the bank when we saw the
tempest coming, and everybody left the pilot-house but me. The wind bent
the young trees down, exposing the pale underside of the leaves; and
gust after gust followed, in quick succession, thrashing the branches
violently up and down, and to this side and that, and creating swift
waves of alternating green and white according to the side of the leaf
that was exposed, and these waves raced after each other as do their
kind over a wind-tossed field of oats. No color that was visible
anywhere was quite natural--all tints were charged with a leaden tinge
from the solid cloud-bank overhead. The river was leaden; all distances
the same; and even the far-reaching ranks of combing white-caps were
dully shaded by the dark, rich atmosphere through which their swarming
legions marched. The thunder-peals were constant and deafening;
explosion followed explosion with but inconsequential intervals between,
and the reports grew steadily sharper and higher-keyed, and more trying
to the ear; the lightning was as diligent as the thunder, and produced
effects which enchanted the eye and sent electric ecstasies of mixed
delight and apprehension shivering along every nerve in the body in
unintermittent procession. The rain poured down in amazing volume; the
ear-splitting thunder-peals broke nearer and nearer; the wind increased
in fury and began to wrench off boughs and tree-tops and send them
sailing away through space; the pilot-house fell to rocking and
straining and cracking and surging, and I went down in the hold to see
what time it was.

People boast a good deal about Alpine thunderstorms; but the storms
which I have had the luck to see in the Alps were not the equals of some
which I have seen in the Mississippi Valley. I may not have seen the
Alps do their best, of course, and if they can beat the Mississippi, I
don't wish to.

On this up trip I saw a little towhead (infant island) half a mile long,
which had been formed during the past nineteen years. Since there was so
much time to spare that nineteen years of it could be devoted to the
construction of a mere towhead, where was the use, originally, in
rushing this whole globe through in six days? It is likely that if more
time had been taken, in the first place, the world would have been made
right, and this ceaseless improving and repairing would not be necessary
now. But if you hurry a world or a house, you are nearly sure to find
out by and by that you have left out a towhead, or a broom-closet, or
some other little convenience, here and there, which has got to be
supplied, no matter how much expense and vexation it may cost.

We had a succession of black nights, going up the river, and it was
observable that whenever we landed, and suddenly inundated the trees
with the intense sunburst of the electric light, a certain curious
effect was always produced: hundreds of birds flocked instantly out from
the masses of shining green foliage, and went careering hither and
thither through the white rays, and often a song-bird tuned up and fell
to singing. We judged that they mistook this superb artificial day for
the genuine article. We had a delightful trip in that thoroughly well-
ordered steamer, and regretted that it was accomplished so speedily. By
means of diligence and activity, we managed to hunt out nearly all the
old friends. One was missing, however; he went to his reward, whatever
it was, two years ago. But I found out all about him. His case helped
me to realize how lasting can be the effect of a very trifling
occurrence. When he was an apprentice-blacksmith in our village, and I a
schoolboy, a couple of young Englishmen came to the town and sojourned a
while; and one day they got themselves up in cheap royal finery and did
the Richard III swordfight with maniac energy and prodigious powwow, in
the presence of the village boys. This blacksmith cub was there, and
the histrionic poison entered his bones. This vast, lumbering,
ignorant, dull-witted lout was stage-struck, and irrecoverably. He
disappeared, and presently turned up in St. Louis. I ran across him
there, by and by. He was standing musing on a street corner, with his
left hand on his hip, the thumb of his right supporting his chin, face
bowed and frowning, slouch hat pulled down over his forehead--imagining
himself to be Othello or some such character, and imagining that the
passing crowd marked his tragic bearing and were awestruck.

I joined him, and tried to get him down out of the clouds, but did not
succeed. However, he casually informed me, presently, that he was a
member of the Walnut Street theater company--and he tried to say it with
indifference, but the indifference was thin, and a mighty exultation
showed through it. He said he was cast for a part in Julius Caesar, for
that night, and if I should come I would see him. IF I should come! I
said I wouldn't miss it if I were dead.

I went away stupefied with astonishment, and saying to myself, 'How
strange it is! WE always thought this fellow a fool; yet the moment he
comes to a great city, where intelligence and appreciation abound, the
talent concealed in this shabby napkin is at once discovered, and
promptly welcomed and honored.'

But I came away from the theater that night disappointed and offended;
for I had had no glimpse of my hero, and his name was not in the bills.
I met him on the street the next morning, and before I could speak, he

'Did you see me?'

'No, you weren't there.'

He looked surprised and disappointed. He said--

'Yes, I was. Indeed I was. I was a Roman soldier.'

'Which one?'

'Why didn't you see them Roman soldiers that stood back there in a rank,
and sometimes marched in procession around the stage?'

'Do you mean the Roman army?--those six sandaled roustabouts in
nightshirts, with tin shields and helmets, that marched around treading
on each other's heels, in charge of a spider-legged consumptive dressed
like themselves?'

'That's it! that's it! I was one of them Roman soldiers. I was the next
to the last one. A half a year ago I used to always be the last one;
but I've been promoted.'

Well, they told me that that poor fellow remained a Roman soldier to the
last--a matter of thirty-four years. Sometimes they cast him for a
'speaking part,' but not an elaborate one. He could be trusted to go
and say, 'My lord, the carriage waits,' but if they ventured to add a
sentence or two to this, his memory felt the strain and he was likely to
miss fire. Yet, poor devil, he had been patiently studying the part of
Hamlet for more than thirty years, and he lived and died in the belief
that some day he would be invited to play it!

And this is what came of that fleeting visit of those young Englishmen
to our village such ages and ages ago! What noble horseshoes this man
might have made, but for those Englishmen; and what an inadequate Roman
soldier he DID make!

A day or two after we reached St. Louis, I was walking along Fourth
Street when a grizzly-headed man gave a sort of start as he passed me,
then stopped, came back, inspected me narrowly, with a clouding brow,
and finally said with deep asperity--


A maniac, I judged, at first. But all in a flash I recognized him. I
made an effort to blush that strained every muscle in me, and answered
as sweetly and winningly as ever I knew how--

'Been a little slow, but am just this minute closing in on the place
where they keep it. Come in and help.'

He softened, and said make it a bottle of champagne and he was
agreeable. He said he had seen my name in the papers, and had put all
his affairs aside and turned out, resolved to find me or die; and make
me answer that question satisfactorily, or kill me; though the most of
his late asperity had been rather counterfeit than otherwise.

This meeting brought back to me the St. Louis riots of about thirty
years ago. I spent a week there, at that time, in a boarding-house, and
had this young fellow for a neighbor across the hall. We saw some of
the fightings and killings; and by and by we went one night to an armory
where two hundred young men had met, upon call, to be armed and go forth
against the rioters, under command of a military man. We drilled till
about ten o'clock at night; then news came that the mob were in great
force in the lower end of the town, and were sweeping everything before
them. Our column moved at once. It was a very hot night, and my musket
was very heavy. We marched and marched; and the nearer we approached the
seat of war, the hotter I grew and the thirstier I got. I was behind my
friend; so, finally, I asked him to hold my musket while I dropped out
and got a drink. Then I branched off and went home. I was not feeling
any solicitude about him of course, because I knew he was so well armed,
now, that he could take care of himself without any trouble. If I had
had any doubts about that, I would have borrowed another musket for him.
I left the city pretty early the next morning, and if this grizzled man
had not happened to encounter my name in the papers the other day in St.
Louis, and felt moved to seek me out, I should have carried to my grave
a heart-torturing uncertainty as to whether he ever got out of the riots
all right or not. I ought to have inquired, thirty years ago; I know
that. And I would have inquired, if I had had the muskets; but, in the
circumstances, he seemed better fixed to conduct the investigations than
I was.

One Monday, near the time of our visit to St. Louis, the 'Globe-
Democrat' came out with a couple of pages of Sunday statistics, whereby
it appeared that 119,448 St. Louis people attended the morning and
evening church services the day before, and 23,102 children attended
Sunday-school. Thus 142,550 persons, out of the city's total of 400,000
population, respected the day religious-wise. I found these statistics,
in a condensed form, in a telegram of the Associated Press, and
preserved them. They made it apparent that St. Louis was in a higher
state of grace than she could have claimed to be in my time. But now
that I canvass the figures narrowly, I suspect that the telegraph
mutilated them. It cannot be that there are more than 150,000 Catholics
in the town; the other 250,000 must be classified as Protestants. Out
of these 250,000, according to this questionable telegram, only 26,362
attended church and Sunday-school, while out of the 150,000 Catholics,
116,188 went to church and Sunday-school.

Chapter 52 A Burning Brand

ALL at once the thought came into my mind, 'I have not sought out Mr.

Upon that text I desire to depart from the direct line of my subject,
and make a little excursion. I wish to reveal a secret which I have
carried with me nine years, and which has become burdensome.

Upon a certain occasion, nine years ago, I had said, with strong
feeling, 'If ever I see St. Louis again, I will seek out Mr. Brown, the
great grain merchant, and ask of him the privilege of shaking him by the

The occasion and the circumstances were as follows. A friend of mine, a
clergyman, came one evening and said--

'I have a most remarkable letter here, which I want to read to you,
if I can do it without breaking down. I must preface it with some
explanations, however. The letter is written by an ex-thief and
ex-vagabond of the lowest origin and basest rearing, a man all stained with
crime and steeped in ignorance; but, thank God, with a mine of pure gold
hidden away in him, as you shall see. His letter is written to a burglar
named Williams, who is serving a nine-year term in a certain State
prison, for burglary. Williams was a particularly daring burglar, and
plied that trade during a number of years; but he was caught at last and
jailed, to await trial in a town where he had broken into a house at
night, pistol in hand, and forced the owner to hand over to him $8,000
in government bonds. Williams was not a common sort of person, by any
means; he was a graduate of Harvard College, and came of good New
England stock. His father was a clergyman. While lying in jail, his
health began to fail, and he was threatened with consumption. This fact,
together with the opportunity for reflection afforded by solitary
confinement, had its effect--its natural effect. He fell into serious
thought; his early training asserted itself with power, and wrought with
strong influence upon his mind and heart. He put his old life behind
him, and became an earnest Christian. Some ladies in the town heard of
this, visited him, and by their encouraging words supported him in his
good resolutions and strengthened him to continue in his new life. The
trial ended in his conviction and sentence to the State prison for the
term of nine years, as I have before said. In the prison he became
acquainted with the poor wretch referred to in the beginning of my talk,
Jack Hunt, the writer of the letter which I am going to read. You will
see that the acquaintanceship bore fruit for Hunt. When Hunt's time was
out, he wandered to St. Louis; and from that place he wrote his letter
to Williams. The letter got no further than the office of the prison
warden, of course; prisoners are not often allowed to receive letters
from outside. The prison authorities read this letter, but did not
destroy it. They had not the heart to do it. They read it to several
persons, and eventually it fell into the hands of those ladies of whom I
spoke a while ago. The other day I came across an old friend of mine--a
clergyman--who had seen this letter, and was full of it. The mere
remembrance of it so moved him that he could not talk of it without his
voice breaking. He promised to get a copy of it for me; and here it is
--an exact copy, with all the imperfections of the original preserved. It
has many slang expressions in it--thieves' argot--but their meaning has
been interlined, in parentheses, by the prison authorities'--

St. Louis, June 9th 1872.

Mr. W---- friend Charlie if i may call you so: i no you are surprised
to get a letter from me, but i hope you won't be mad at my writing to
you. i want to tell you my thanks for the way you talked to me when i
was in prison--it has led me to try and be a better man; i guess you
thought i did not cair for what you said, & at the first go off I
didn't, but i noed you was a man who had don big work with good men &
want no sucker, nor want gasing & all the boys knod it.

I used to think at nite what you said, & for it i nocked off swearing
months before my time was up, for i saw it want no good, nohow--the day
my time was up you told me if i would shake the cross (QUIT STEALING) &
live on the square for months, it would be the best job i ever done in
my life. The state agent give me a ticket to here, & on the car i
thought more of what you said to me, but didn't make up my mind. When
we got to Chicago on the cars from there to here, I pulled off an old
woman's leather; (ROBBED HER OF HER POCKETBOOK) i hadn't no more than
got it off when i wished i hadn't done it, for awhile before that i made
up my mind to be a square bloke, for months on your word, but forgot it
when i saw the leather was a grip (EASY TO GET)--but i kept clos to her
& when she got out of the cars at a way place i said, marm have you lost
anything. & she tumbled (DISCOVERED) her leather was off (GONE)--is this
it says i, giving it to her--well if you aint honest, says she, but i
hadn't got cheak enough to stand that sort of talk, so i left her in a
hurry. When i got here i had $1 and 25 cents left & i didn't get no work
for 3 days as i aint strong enough for roust about on a steam bote (FOR
A DECK HAND)--The afternoon of the 3rd day I spent my last 10 cts for
moons (LARGE, ROUND SEA-BISCUIT) & cheese & i felt pretty rough & was
thinking i would have to go on the dipe (PICKING POCKETS) again, when i
thought of what you once said about a fellows calling on the Lord when
he was in hard luck, & i thought i would try it once anyhow, but when i
tryed it i got stuck on the start, & all i could get off wos, Lord give
a poor fellow a chance to square it for 3 months for Christ's sake,
amen; & i kept a thinking, of it over and over as i went along--about an
hour after that i was in 4th St. & this is what happened & is the cause
of my being where i am now & about which i will tell you before i get
done writing. As i was walking along herd a big noise & saw a horse
running away with a carriage with 2 children in it, & I grabed up a
peace of box cover from the side walk & run in the middle of the street,
& when the horse came up i smashed him over the head as hard as i could
drive--the bord split to peces & the horse checked up a little & I
grabbed the reigns & pulled his head down until he stopped--the
gentleman what owned him came running up & soon as he saw the children
were all rite, he shook hands with me and gave me a $50 green back, & my
asking the Lord to help me come into my head, & i was so thunderstruck i
couldn't drop the reigns nor say nothing--he saw something was up, &
coming back to me said, my boy are you hurt? & the thought come into my
head just then to ask him for work; & i asked him to take back the bill
and give me a job--says he, jump in here & lets talk about it, but keep
the money--he asked me if i could take care of horses & i said yes, for
i used to hang round livery stables & often would help clean & drive
horses, he told me he wanted a man for that work, & would give me $16 a
month & bord me. You bet i took that chance at once. that nite in my
little room over the stable i sat a long time thinking over my past life
& of what had just happened & i just got down on my nees & thanked the
Lord for the job & to help me to square it, & to bless you for putting
me up to it, & the next morning i done it again & got me some new togs
(CLOTHES) & a bible for i made up my mind after what the Lord had done
for me i would read the bible every nite and morning, & ask him to keep
an eye on me. When I had been there about a week Mr. Brown (that's his
name) came in my room one nite and saw me reading the bible--he asked me
if i was a Christian & i told him no--he asked me how it was i read the
bible instead of papers & books--Well Charlie i thought i had better
give him a square deal in the start, so i told him all about my being in
prison & about you, & how i had almost done give up looking for work &
how the Lord got me the job when I asked him; & the only way i had to
pay him back was to read the bible & square it, & i asked him to give me
a chance for 3 months--he talked to me like a father for a long time, &
told me i could stay & then i felt better than ever i had done in my
life, for i had given Mr. Brown a fair start with me & now i didn't fear
no one giving me a back cap (EXPOSING HIS PAST LIFE) & running me off
the job--the next morning he called me into the library & gave me
another square talk, & advised me to study some every day, & he would
help me one or 2 hours every nite, & he gave me a Arithmetic, a spelling
book, a Geography & a writing book, & he hers me every nite--he lets me
come into the house to prayers every morning, & got me put in a bible
class in the Sunday School which i likes very much for it helps me to
understand my bible better.

Now, Charlie the 3 months on the square are up 2 months ago, & as you
said, it is the best job i ever did in my life, & i commenced another of
the same sort right away, only it is to God helping me to last a
lifetime Charlie--i wrote this letter to tell you I do think God has
forgiven my sins & herd your prayers, for you told me you should pray
for me--i no i love to read his word & tell him all my troubles & he
helps me i know for i have plenty of chances to steal but i don't feel
to as i once did & now i take more pleasure in going to church than to
the theater & that wasnt so once--our minister and others often talk
with me & a month ago they wanted me to join the church, but I said no,
not now, i may be mistaken in my feelings, i will wait awhile, but now i
feel that God has called me & on the first Sunday in July i will join
the church--dear friend i wish i could write to you as i feel, but i
cant do it yet--you no i learned to read and write while prisons & i
aint got well enough along to write as i would talk; i no i aint spelled
all the words rite in this & lots of other mistakes but you will excuse
it i no, for you no i was brought up in a poor house until i run away, &
that i never new who my father and mother was & i dont no my right name,
& i hope you wont be mad at me, but i have as much rite to one name as
another & i have taken your name, for you wont use it when you get out i
no, & you are the man i think most of in the world; so i hope you wont
be mad--I am doing well, i put $10 a month in bank with $25 of the $50--
if you ever want any or all of it let me know, & it is yours. i wish you
would let me send you some now. I send you with this a receipt for a
year of Littles Living Age, i didn't know what you would like & i told
Mr. Brown & he said he thought you would like it--i wish i was nere you
so i could send you chuck (REFRESHMENTS) on holidays; it would spoil
this weather from here, but i will send you a box next thanksgiving any
way--next week Mr. Brown takes me into his store as lite porter & will
advance me as soon as i know a little more--he keeps a big granary
store, wholesale--i forgot to tell you of my mission school, sunday
school class--the school is in the sunday afternoon, i went out two
sunday afternoons, and picked up seven kids (LITTLE BOYS) & got them to
come in. two of them new as much as i did & i had them put in a class
where they could learn something. i dont no much myself, but as these
kids cant read i get on nicely with them. i make sure of them by going
after them every Sunday hour before school time, I also got 4 girls to
come. tell Mack and Harry about me, if they will come out here when
their time is up i will get them jobs at once. i hope you will excuse
this long letter & all mistakes, i wish i could see you for i cant write
as i would talk--i hope the warm weather is doing your lungs good--i was
afraid when you was bleeding you would die--give my respects to all the
boys and tell them how i am doing--i am doing well and every one here
treats me as kind as they can--Mr. Brown is going to write to you
sometime--i hope some day you will write to me, this letter is from your
very true friend

C---- W----

who you know as Jack Hunt.

I send you Mr. Brown's card. Send my letter to him.

Here was true eloquence; irresistible eloquence; and without a single
grace or ornament to help it out. I have seldom been so deeply stirred
by any piece of writing. The reader of it halted, all the way through,
on a lame and broken voice; yet he had tried to fortify his feelings by
several private readings of the letter before venturing into company
with it. He was practising upon me to see if there was any hope of his
being able to read the document to his prayer-meeting with anything like
a decent command over his feelings. The result was not promising.
However, he determined to risk it; and did. He got through tolerably
well; but his audience broke down early, and stayed in that condition to
the end.

The fame of the letter spread through the town. A brother minister came
and borrowed the manuscript, put it bodily into a sermon, preached the
sermon to twelve hundred people on a Sunday morning, and the letter
drowned them in their own tears. Then my friend put it into a sermon and
went before his Sunday morning congregation with it. It scored another
triumph. The house wept as one individual.

My friend went on summer vacation up into the fishing regions of our
northern British neighbors, and carried this sermon with him, since he
might possibly chance to need a sermon. He was asked to preach, one day.
The little church was full. Among the people present were the late Dr.
J. G. Holland, the late Mr. Seymour of the 'New York Times,' Mr. Page,
the philanthropist and temperance advocate, and, I think, Senator Frye,
of Maine. The marvelous letter did its wonted work; all the people were
moved, all the people wept; the tears flowed in a steady stream down Dr.
Holland's cheeks, and nearly the same can be said with regard to all who
were there. Mr. Page was so full of enthusiasm over the letter that he
said he would not rest until he made pilgrimage to that prison, and had
speech with the man who had been able to inspire a fellow-unfortunate to
write so priceless a tract.

Ah, that unlucky Page!--and another man. If they had only been in
Jericho, that letter would have rung through the world and stirred all
the hearts of all the nations for a thousand years to come, and nobody
might ever have found out that it was the confoundedest, brazenest,
ingeniousest piece of fraud and humbuggery that was ever concocted to
fool poor confiding mortals with!

The letter was a pure swindle, and that is the truth. And take it by and
large, it was without a compeer among swindles. It was perfect, it was
rounded, symmetrical, complete, colossal!

The reader learns it at this point; but we didn't learn it till some
miles and weeks beyond this stage of the affair. My friend came back
from the woods, and he and other clergymen and lay missionaries began
once more to inundate audiences with their tears and the tears of said
audiences; I begged hard for permission to print the letter in a
magazine and tell the watery story of its triumphs; numbers of people
got copies of the letter, with permission to circulate them in writing,
but not in print; copies were sent to the Sandwich Islands and other far

Charles Dudley Warner was at church, one day, when the worn letter was
read and wept over. At the church door, afterward, he dropped a
peculiarly cold iceberg down the clergyman's back with the question--

'Do you know that letter to be genuine?'

It was the first suspicion that had ever been voiced; but it had that
sickening effect which first-uttered suspicions against one's idol
always have. Some talk followed--

'Why--what should make you suspect that it isn't genuine?'

'Nothing that I know of, except that it is too neat, and compact, and
fluent, and nicely put together for an ignorant person, an unpractised
hand. I think it was done by an educated man.'

The literary artist had detected the literary machinery. If you will
look at the letter now, you will detect it yourself--it is observable in
every line.

Straightway the clergyman went off, with this seed of suspicion
sprouting in him, and wrote to a minister residing in that town where
Williams had been jailed and converted; asked for light; and also asked
if a person in the literary line (meaning me) might be allowed to print
the letter and tell its history. He presently received this answer--

Rev. ---- ----

MY DEAR FRIEND,--In regard to that 'convict's letter' there can be no
doubt as to its genuineness. 'Williams,' to whom it was written, lay in
our jail and professed to have been converted, and Rev. Mr. ----, the
chaplain, had great faith in the genuineness of the change--as much as
one can have in any such case.

The letter was sent to one of our ladies, who is a Sunday-school
teacher,--sent either by Williams himself, or the chaplain of the
State's prison, probably. She has been greatly annoyed in having so
much publicity, lest it might seem a breach of confidence, or be an
injury to Williams. In regard to its publication, I can give no
permission; though if the names and places were omitted, and especially
if sent out of the country, I think you might take the responsibility
and do it.

It is a wonderful letter, which no Christian genius, much less one
unsanctified, could ever have written. As showing the work of grace in
a human heart, and in a very degraded and wicked one, it proves its own
origin and reproves our weak faith in its power to cope with any form of

'Mr. Brown' of St. Louis, some one said, was a Hartford man. Do all whom
you send from Hartford serve their Master as well?

P.S.--Williams is still in the State's prison, serving out a long
sentence--of nine years, I think. He has been sick and threatened with
consumption, but I have not inquired after him lately. This lady that I
speak of corresponds with him, I presume, and will be quite sure to look
after him.

This letter arrived a few days after it was written--and up went Mr.
Williams's stock again. Mr. Warner's low-down suspicion was laid in the
cold, cold grave, where it apparently belonged. It was a suspicion based
upon mere internal evidence, anyway; and when you come to internal
evidence, it's a big field and a game that two can play at: as witness
this other internal evidence, discovered by the writer of the note above
quoted, that 'it is a wonderful letter--which no Christian genius, much
less one unsanctified, could ever have written.'

I had permission now to print--provided I suppressed names and places
and sent my narrative out of the country. So I chose an Australian
magazine for vehicle, as being far enough out of the country, and set
myself to work on my article. And the ministers set the pumps going
again, with the letter to work the handles.

But meantime Brother Page had been agitating. He had not visited the
penitentiary, but he had sent a copy of the illustrious letter to the
chaplain of that institution, and accompanied it with--apparently
inquiries. He got an answer, dated four days later than that other
Brother's reassuring epistle; and before my article was complete, it
wandered into my hands. The original is before me, now, and I here
append it. It is pretty well loaded with internal evidence of the most
solid description--


DEAR BRO. PAGE,--Herewith please find the letter kindly loaned me. I am
afraid its genuineness cannot be established. It purports to be
addressed to some prisoner here. No such letter ever came to a prisoner
here. All letters received are carefully read by officers of the prison
before they go into the hands of the convicts, and any such letter could
not be forgotten. Again, Charles Williams is not a Christian man, but a
dissolute, cunning prodigal, whose father is a minister of the gospel.
His name is an assumed one. I am glad to have made your acquaintance. I
am preparing a lecture upon life seen through prison bars, and should
like to deliver the same in your vicinity.

And so ended that little drama. My poor article went into the fire; for
whereas the materials for it were now more abundant and infinitely
richer than they had previously been, there were parties all around me,
who, although longing for the publication before, were a unit for
suppression at this stage and complexion of the game. They said: 'Wait
--the wound is too fresh, yet.' All the copies of the famous letter
except mine disappeared suddenly; and from that time onward, the
aforetime same old drought set in in the churches. As a rule, the town
was on a spacious grin for a while, but there were places in it where
the grin did not appear, and where it was dangerous to refer to the
ex-convict's letter.

A word of explanation. 'Jack Hunt,' the professed writer of the letter,
was an imaginary person. The burglar Williams--Harvard graduate, son of
a minister--wrote the letter himself, to himself: got it smuggled out
of the prison; got it conveyed to persons who had supported and
encouraged him in his conversion--where he knew two things would happen:
the genuineness of the letter would not be doubted or inquired into; and
the nub of it would be noticed, and would have valuable effect--the
effect, indeed, of starting a movement to get Mr. Williams pardoned out
of prison.

That 'nub' is so ingeniously, so casually, flung in, and immediately
left there in the tail of the letter, undwelt upon, that an indifferent
reader would never suspect that it was the heart and core of the
epistle, if he even took note of it at all, This is the 'nub'--

'i hope the warm weather is doing your lungs good--I WAS AFRAID WHEN YOU
WAS BLEEDING YOU WOULD DIE--give my respects,' etc.

That is all there is of it--simply touch and go--no dwelling upon it.
Nevertheless it was intended for an eye that would be swift to see it;
and it was meant to move a kind heart to try to effect the liberation of
a poor reformed and purified fellow lying in the fell grip of

When I for the first time heard that letter read, nine years ago, I felt
that it was the most remarkable one I had ever encountered. And it so
warmed me toward Mr. Brown of St. Louis that I said that if ever I
visited that city again, I would seek out that excellent man and kiss
the hem of his garment if it was a new one. Well, I visited St. Louis,
but I did not hunt for Mr. Brown; for, alas! the investigations of long
ago had proved that the benevolent Brown, like 'Jack Hunt,' was not a
real person, but a sheer invention of that gifted rascal, Williams--
burglar, Harvard graduate, son of a clergyman.

Chapter 53 My Boyhood's Home

WE took passage in one of the fast boats of the St. Louis and St. Paul
Packet Company, and started up the river.

When I, as a boy, first saw the mouth of the Missouri River, it was
twenty-two or twenty-three miles above St. Louis, according to the
estimate of pilots; the wear and tear of the banks have moved it down
eight miles since then; and the pilots say that within five years the
river will cut through and move the mouth down five miles more, which
will bring it within ten miles of St. Louis.

About nightfall we passed the large and flourishing town of Alton,
Illinois; and before daylight next morning the town of Louisiana,
Missouri, a sleepy village in my day, but a brisk railway center now;
however, all the towns out there are railway centers now. I could not
clearly recognize the place. This seemed odd to me, for when I retired
from the rebel army in '61 I retired upon Louisiana in good order; at
least in good enough order for a person who had not yet learned how to
retreat according to the rules of war, and had to trust to native
genius. It seemed to me that for a first attempt at a retreat it was not
badly done. I had done no advancing in all that campaign that was at
all equal to it.

There was a railway bridge across the river here well sprinkled with
glowing lights, and a very beautiful sight it was.

At seven in the morning we reached Hannibal, Missouri, where my boyhood
was spent. I had had a glimpse of it fifteen years ago, and another
glimpse six years earlier, but both were so brief that they hardly
counted. The only notion of the town that remained in my mind was the
memory of it as I had known it when I first quitted it twenty-nine years
ago. That picture of it was still as clear and vivid to me as a
photograph. I stepped ashore with the feeling of one who returns out of
a dead-and-gone generation. I had a sort of realizing sense of what the
Bastille prisoners must have felt when they used to come out and look
upon Paris after years of captivity, and note how curiously the familiar
and the strange were mixed together before them. I saw the new houses--
saw them plainly enough--but they did not affect the older picture in my
mind, for through their solid bricks and mortar I saw the vanished
houses, which had formerly stood there, with perfect distinctness.

It was Sunday morning, and everybody was abed yet. So I passed through
the vacant streets, still seeing the town as it was, and not as it is,
and recognizing and metaphorically shaking hands with a hundred familiar
objects which no longer exist; and finally climbed Holiday's Hill to get
a comprehensive view. The whole town lay spread out below me then, and I
could mark and fix every locality, every detail. Naturally, I was a
good deal moved. I said, 'Many of the people I once knew in this
tranquil refuge of my childhood are now in heaven; some, I trust, are in
the other place.' The things about me and before me made me feel like a
boy again--convinced me that I was a boy again, and that I had simply
been dreaming an unusually long dream; but my reflections spoiled all
that; for they forced me to say, 'I see fifty old houses down yonder,
into each of which I could enter and find either a man or a woman who
was a baby or unborn when I noticed those houses last, or a grandmother
who was a plump young bride at that time.'

From this vantage ground the extensive view up and down the river, and
wide over the wooded expanses of Illinois, is very beautiful--one of the
most beautiful on the Mississippi, I think; which is a hazardous remark
to make, for the eight hundred miles of river between St. Louis and St.
Paul afford an unbroken succession of lovely pictures. It may be that
my affection for the one in question biases my judgment in its favor; I
cannot say as to that. No matter, it was satisfyingly beautiful to me,
and it had this advantage over all the other friends whom I was about to
greet again: it had suffered no change; it was as young and fresh and
comely and gracious as ever it had been; whereas, the faces of the
others would be old, and scarred with the campaigns of life, and marked
with their griefs and defeats, and would give me no upliftings of

An old gentleman, out on an early morning walk, came along, and we
discussed the weather, and then drifted into other matters. I could not
remember his face. He said he had been living here twenty-eight years.
So he had come after my time, and I had never seen him before. I asked
him various questions; first about a mate of mine in Sunday school--what
became of him?

'He graduated with honor in an Eastern college, wandered off into the
world somewhere, succeeded at nothing, passed out of knowledge and
memory years ago, and is supposed to have gone to the dogs.'

'He was bright, and promised well when he was a boy.'

'Yes, but the thing that happened is what became of it all.'

I asked after another lad, altogether the brightest in our village
school when I was a boy.

'He, too, was graduated with honors, from an Eastern college; but life
whipped him in every battle, straight along, and he died in one of the
Territories, years ago, a defeated man.'

I asked after another of the bright boys.

'He is a success, always has been, always will be, I think.'

I inquired after a young fellow who came to the town to study for one of
the professions when I was a boy.

'He went at something else before he got through--went from medicine to
law, or from law to medicine--then to some other new thing; went away
for a year, came back with a young wife; fell to drinking, then to
gambling behind the door; finally took his wife and two young children
to her father's, and went off to Mexico; went from bad to worse, and
finally died there, without a cent to buy a shroud, and without a friend
to attend the funeral.'

'Pity, for he was the best-natured, and most cheery and hopeful young
fellow that ever was.'

I named another boy.

'Oh, he is all right. Lives here yet; has a wife and children, and is

Same verdict concerning other boys.

I named three school-girls.

'The first two live here, are married and have children; the other is
long ago dead--never married.'

I named, with emotion, one of my early sweethearts.

'She is all right. Been married three times; buried two husbands,
divorced from the third, and I hear she is getting ready to marry an old
fellow out in Colorado somewhere. She's got children scattered around
here and there, most everywheres.'

The answer to several other inquiries was brief and simple--

'Killed in the war.'

I named another boy.

'Well, now, his case is curious! There wasn't a human being in this
town but knew that that boy was a perfect chucklehead; perfect dummy;
just a stupid ass, as you may say. Everybody knew it, and everybody said
it. Well, if that very boy isn't the first lawyer in the State of
Missouri to-day, I'm a Democrat!'

'Is that so?'

'It's actually so. I'm telling you the truth.'

'How do you account for it?'

'Account for it? There ain't any accounting for it, except that if you
send a damned fool to St. Louis, and you don't tell them he's a damned
fool they'll never find it out. There's one thing sure--if I had a
damned fool I should know what to do with him: ship him to St. Louis--
it's the noblest market in the world for that kind of property. Well,
when you come to look at it all around, and chew at it and think it
over, don't it just bang anything you ever heard of?'

'Well, yes, it does seem to. But don't you think maybe it was the
Hannibal people who were mistaken about the boy, and not the St. Louis

'Oh, nonsense! The people here have known him from the very cradle--
they knew him a hundred times better than the St. Louis idiots could
have known him. No, if you have got any damned fools that you want to
realize on, take my advice--send them to St. Louis.'

I mentioned a great number of people whom I had formerly known. Some
were dead, some were gone away, some had prospered, some had come to
naught; but as regarded a dozen or so of the lot, the answer was

'Prosperous--live here yet--town littered with their children.'

I asked about Miss ----.

Died in the insane asylum three or four years ago--never was out of it
from the time she went in; and was always suffering, too; never got a
shred of her mind back.'

If he spoke the truth, here was a heavy tragedy, indeed. Thirty-six
years in a madhouse, that some young fools might have some fun! I was a
small boy, at the time; and I saw those giddy young ladies come
tiptoeing into the room where Miss ---- sat reading at midnight by a
lamp. The girl at the head of the file wore a shroud and a doughface,
she crept behind the victim, touched her on the shoulder, and she looked
up and screamed, and then fell into convulsions. She did not recover
from the fright, but went mad. In these days it seems incredible that
people believed in ghosts so short a time ago. But they did.

After asking after such other folk as I could call to mind, I finally
inquired about MYSELF:

'Oh, he succeeded well enough--another case of damned fool. If they'd
sent him to St. Louis, he'd have succeeded sooner.'

It was with much satisfaction that I recognized the wisdom of having
told this candid gentleman, in the beginning, that my name was Smith.

Chapter 54 Past and Present

Being left to myself, up there, I went on picking out old houses in the
distant town, and calling back their former inmates out of the moldy
past. Among them I presently recognized the house of the father of Lem
Hackett (fictitious name). It carried me back more than a generation in
a moment, and landed me in the midst of a time when the happenings of
life were not the natural and logical results of great general laws, but
of special orders, and were freighted with very precise and distinct
purposes--partly punitive in intent, partly admonitory; and usually
local in application.

When I was a small boy, Lem Hackett was drowned--on a Sunday. He fell
out of an empty flat-boat, where he was playing. Being loaded with sin,
he went to the bottom like an anvil. He was the only boy in the village
who slept that night. We others all lay awake, repenting. We had not
needed the information, delivered from the pulpit that evening, that
Lem's was a case of special judgment--we knew that, already. There was
a ferocious thunder-storm, that night, and it raged continuously until
near dawn. The winds blew, the windows rattled, the rain swept along the
roof in pelting sheets, and at the briefest of intervals the inky
blackness of the night vanished, the houses over the way glared out
white and blinding for a quivering instant, then the solid darkness shut
down again and a splitting peal of thunder followed, which seemed to
rend everything in the neighborhood to shreds and splinters. I sat up in
bed quaking and shuddering, waiting for the destruction of the world,
and expecting it. To me there was nothing strange or incongruous in
heaven's making such an uproar about Lem Hackett. Apparently it was the
right and proper thing to do. Not a doubt entered my mind that all the
angels were grouped together, discussing this boy's case and observing
the awful bombardment of our beggarly little village with satisfaction
and approval. There was one thing which disturbed me in the most serious
way; that was the thought that this centering of the celestial interest
on our village could not fail to attract the attention of the observers
to people among us who might otherwise have escaped notice for years. I
felt that I was not only one of those people, but the very one most
likely to be discovered. That discovery could have but one result: I
should be in the fire with Lem before the chill of the river had been
fairly warmed out of him. I knew that this would be only just and fair.
I was increasing the chances against myself all the time, by feeling a
secret bitterness against Lem for having attracted this fatal attention
to me, but I could not help it--this sinful thought persisted in
infesting my breast in spite of me. Every time the lightning glared I
caught my breath, and judged I was gone. In my terror and misery, I
meanly began to suggest other boys, and mention acts of theirs which
were wickeder than mine, and peculiarly needed punishment--and I tried
to pretend to myself that I was simply doing this in a casual way, and
without intent to divert the heavenly attention to them for the purpose
of getting rid of it myself. With deep sagacity I put these mentions
into the form of sorrowing recollections and left-handed sham-
supplications that the sins of those boys might be allowed to pass
unnoticed--'Possibly they may repent.' 'It is true that Jim Smith broke
a window and lied about it--but maybe he did not mean any harm. And
although Tom Holmes says more bad words than any other boy in the
village, he probably intends to repent--though he has never said he
would. And whilst it is a fact that John Jones did fish a little on
Sunday, once, he didn't really catch anything but only just one small
useless mud-cat; and maybe that wouldn't have been so awful if he had
thrown it back--as he says he did, but he didn't. Pity but they would
repent of these dreadful things--and maybe they will yet.'

But while I was shamefully trying to draw attention to these poor chaps
--who were doubtless directing the celestial attention to me at the same
moment, though I never once suspected that--I had heedlessly left my
candle burning. It was not a time to neglect even trifling precautions.
There was no occasion to add anything to the facilities for attracting
notice to me--so I put the light out.

It was a long night to me, and perhaps the most distressful one I ever
spent. I endured agonies of remorse for sins which I knew I had
committed, and for others which I was not certain about, yet was sure
that they had been set down against me in a book by an angel who was
wiser than I and did not trust such important matters to memory. It
struck me, by and by, that I had been making a most foolish and
calamitous mistake, in one respect: doubtless I had not only made my own
destruction sure by directing attention to those other boys, but had
already accomplished theirs!--Doubtless the lightning had stretched them
all dead in their beds by this time! The anguish and the fright which
this thought gave me made my previous sufferings seem trifling by

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