Part 2 out of 3
I did not like to speak out too flatly, so I said I had suspected it.
"Well, it is true that they are nothing to me. It is not possible that
they should be. The difference between them and me is abysmal,
immeasurable. They have no intellect."
"Nothing that resembles it. At a future time I will examine what man
calls his mind and give you the details of that chaos, then you will see
and understand. Men have nothing in common with me--there is no point of
contact; they have foolish little feelings and foolish little vanities
and impertinences and ambitions; their foolish little life is but a
laugh, a sigh, and extinction; and they have no sense. Only the Moral
Sense. I will show you what I mean. Here is a red spider, not so big as
a pin's head. Can you imagine an elephant being interested in him--
caring whether he is happy or isn't, or whether he is wealthy or poor, or
whether his sweetheart returns his love or not, or whether his mother is
sick or well, or whether he is looked up to in society or not, or whether
his enemies will smite him or his friends desert him, or whether his
hopes will suffer blight or his political ambitions fail, or whether he
shall die in the bosom of his family or neglected and despised in a
foreign land? These things can never be important to the elephant; they
are nothing to him; he cannot shrink his sympathies to the microscopic
size of them. Man is to me as the red spider is to the elephant. The
elephant has nothing against the spider--he cannot get down to that
remote level; I have nothing against man. The elephant is indifferent; I
am indifferent. The elephant would not take the trouble to do the spider
an ill turn; if he took the notion he might do him a good turn, if it
came in his way and cost nothing. I have done men good service, but no
"The elephant lives a century, the red spider a day; in power, intellect,
and dignity the one creature is separated from the other by a distance
which is simply astronomical. Yet in these, as in all qualities, man is
immeasurably further below me than is the wee spider below the elephant.
"Man's mind clumsily and tediously and laboriously patches little
trivialities together and gets a result--such as it is. My mind creates!
Do you get the force of that? Creates anything it desires--and in a
moment. Creates without material. Creates fluids, solids, colors--
anything, everything--out of the airy nothing which is called Thought. A
man imagines a silk thread, imagines a machine to make it, imagines a
picture, then by weeks of labor embroiders it on canvas with the thread.
I think the whole thing, and in a moment it is before you--created.
"I think a poem, music, the record of a game of chess--anything--and it
is there. This is the immortal mind--nothing is beyond its reach.
Nothing can obstruct my vision; the rocks are transparent to me, and
darkness is daylight. I do not need to open a book; I take the whole of
its contents into my mind at a single glance, through the cover; and in a
million years I could not forget a single word of it, or its place in the
volume. Nothing goes on in the skull of man, bird, fish, insect, or
other creature which can be hidden from me. I pierce the learned man's
brain with a single glance, and the treasures which cost him threescore
years to accumulate are mine; he can forget, and he does forget, but I
"Now, then, I perceive by your thoughts that you are understanding me
fairly well. Let us proceed. Circumstances might so fall out that the
elephant could like the spider--supposing he can see it--but he could not
love it. His love is for his own kind--for his equals. An angel's love
is sublime, adorable, divine, beyond the imagination of man--infinitely
beyond it! But it is limited to his own august order. If it fell upon
one of your race for only an instant, it would consume its object to
ashes. No, we cannot love men, but we can be harmlessly indifferent to
them; we can also like them, sometimes. I like you and the boys, I like
Father Peter, and for your sakes I am doing all these things for the
He saw that I was thinking a sarcasm, and he explained his position.
"I have wrought well for the villagers, though it does not look like it
on the surface. Your race never know good fortune from ill. They are
always mistaking the one for the other. It is because they cannot see
into the future. What I am doing for the villagers will bear good fruit
some day; in some cases to themselves; in others, to unborn generations
of men. No one will ever know that I was the cause, but it will be none
the less true, for all that. Among you boys you have a game: you stand a
row of bricks on end a few inches apart; you push a brick, it knocks its
neighbor over, the neighbor knocks over the next brick--and so on till
all the row is prostrate. That is human life. A child's first act
knocks over the initial brick, and the rest will follow inexorably. If
you could see into the future, as I can, you would see everything that
was going to happen to that creature; for nothing can change the order of
its life after the first event has determined it. That is, nothing will
change it, because each act unfailingly begets an act, that act begets
another, and so on to the end, and the seer can look forward down the
line and see just when each act is to have birth, from cradle to grave."
"Does God order the career?"
"Foreordain it? No. The man's circumstances and environment order it.
His first act determines the second and all that follow after. But
suppose, for argument's sake, that the man should skip one of these acts;
an apparently trifling one, for instance; suppose that it had been
appointed that on a certain day, at a certain hour and minute and second
and fraction of a second he should go to the well, and he didn't go.
That man's career would change utterly, from that moment; thence to the
grave it would be wholly different from the career which his first act as
a child had arranged for him. Indeed, it might be that if he had gone to
the well he would have ended his career on a throne, and that omitting to
do it would set him upon a career that would lead to beggary and a
pauper's grave. For instance: if at any time--say in boyhood--Columbus
had skipped the triflingest little link in the chain of acts projected
and made inevitable by his first childish act, it would have changed his
whole subsequent life, and he would have become a priest and died obscure
in an Italian village, and America would not have been discovered for two
centuries afterward. I know this. To skip any one of the billion acts
in Columbus's chain would have wholly changed his life. I have examined
his billion of possible careers, and in only one of them occurs the
discovery of America. You people do not suspect that all of your acts
are of one size and importance, but it is true; to snatch at an appointed
fly is as big with fate for you as is any other appointed act--"
"As the conquering of a continent, for instance?"
"Yes. Now, then, no man ever does drop a link--the thing has never
happened! Even when he is trying to make up his mind as to whether he
will do a thing or not, that itself is a link, an act, and has its proper
place in his chain; and when he finally decides an act, that also was the
thing which he was absolutely certain to do. You see, now, that a man
will never drop a link in his chain. He cannot. If he made up his mind
to try, that project would itself be an unavoidable link--a thought bound
to occur to him at that precise moment, and made certain by the first act
of his babyhood."
It seemed so dismal!
"He is a prisoner for life," I said sorrowfully, "and cannot get free."
"No, of himself he cannot get away from the consequences of his first
childish act. But I can free him."
I looked up wistfully.
"I have changed the careers of a number of your villagers."
I tried to thank him, but found it difficult, and let it drop.
"I shall make some other changes. You know that little Lisa Brandt?"
"Oh yes, everybody does. My mother says she is so sweet and so lovely
that she is not like any other child. She says she will be the pride of
the village when she grows up; and its idol, too, just as she is now."
"I shall change her future."
"Make it better?" I asked.
"Yes. And I will change the future of Nikolaus."
I was glad, this time, and said, "I don't need to ask about his case; you
will be sure to do generously by him."
"It is my intention."
Straight off I was building that great future of Nicky's in my
imagination, and had already made a renowned general of him and
hofmeister at the court, when I noticed that Satan was waiting for me to
get ready to listen again. I was ashamed of having exposed my cheap
imaginings to him, and was expecting some sarcasms, but it did not
happen. He proceeded with his subject:
"Nicky's appointed life is sixty-two years."
"That's grand!" I said.
"Lisa's, thirty-six. But, as I told you, I shall change their lives and
those ages. Two minutes and a quarter from now Nikolaus will wake out of
his sleep and find the rain blowing in. It was appointed that he should
turn over and go to sleep again. But I have appointed that he shall get
up and close the window first. That trifle will change his career
entirely. He will rise in the morning two minutes later than the chain
of his life had appointed him to rise. By consequence, thenceforth
nothing will ever happen to him in accordance with the details of the old
chain." He took out his watch and sat looking at it a few moments, then
said: "Nikolaus has risen to close the window. His life is changed, his
new career has begun. There will be consequences."
It made me feel creepy; it was uncanny.
"But for this change certain things would happen twelve days from now.
For instance, Nikolaus would save Lisa from drowning. He would arrive on
the scene at exactly the right moment--four minutes past ten, the long-
ago appointed instant of time--and the water would be shoal, the
achievement easy and certain. But he will arrive some seconds too late,
now; Lisa will have struggled into deeper water. He will do his best,
but both will drown."
"Oh, Satan! oh, dear Satan!" I cried, with the tears rising in my eyes,
"save them! Don't let it happen. I can't bear to lose Nikolaus, he is
my loving playmate and friend; and think of Lisa's poor mother!"
I clung to him and begged and pleaded, but he was not moved. He made me
sit down again, and told me I must hear him out.
"I have changed Nikolaus's life, and this has changed Lisa's. If I had
not done this, Nikolaus would save Lisa, then he would catch cold from
his drenching; one of your race's fantastic and desolating scarlet fevers
would follow, with pathetic after-effects; for forty-six years he would
lie in his bed a paralytic log, deaf, dumb, blind, and praying night and
day for the blessed relief of death. Shall I change his life back?"
"Oh no! Oh, not for the world! In charity and pity leave it as it is."
"It is best so. I could not have changed any other link in his life and
done him so good a service. He had a billion possible careers, but not
one of them was worth living; they were charged full with miseries and
disasters. But for my intervention he would do his brave deed twelve
days from now--a deed begun and ended in six minutes--and get for all
reward those forty-six years of sorrow and suffering I told you of. It
is one of the cases I was thinking of awhile ago when I said that
sometimes an act which brings the actor an hour's happiness and self-
satisfaction is paid for--or punished--by years of suffering."
I wondered what poor little Lisa's early death would save her from. He
answered the thought:
"From ten years of pain and slow recovery from an accident, and then from
nineteen years' pollution, shame, depravity, crime, ending with death at
the hands of the executioner. Twelve days hence she will die; her mother
would save her life if she could. Am I not kinder than her mother?"
"Yes--oh, indeed yes; and wiser."
"Father Peter's case is coming on presently. He will be acquitted,
through unassailable proofs of his innocence."
"Why, Satan, how can that be? Do you really think it?"
"Indeed, I know it. His good name will be restored, and the rest of his
life will be happy."
"I can believe it. To restore his good name will have that effect."
"His happiness will not proceed from that cause. I shall change his life
that day, for his good. He will never know his good name has been
In my mind--and modestly--I asked for particulars, but Satan paid no
attention to my thought. Next, my mind wandered to the astrologer, and I
wondered where he might be.
"In the moon," said Satan, with a fleeting sound which I believed was a
chuckle. "I've got him on the cold side of it, too. He doesn't know
where he is, and is not having a pleasant time; still, it is good enough
for him, a good place for his star studies. I shall need him presently;
then I shall bring him back and possess him again. He has a long and
cruel and odious life before him, but I will change that, for I have no
feeling against him and am quite willing to do him a kindness. I think I
shall get him burned."
He had such strange notions of kindness! But angels are made so, and do
not know any better. Their ways are not like our ways; and, besides,
human beings are nothing to them; they think they are only freaks. It
seems to me odd that he should put the astrologer so far away; he could
have dumped him in Germany just as well, where he would be handy.
"Far away?" said Satan. "To me no place is far away; distance does not
exist for me. The sun is less than a hundred million miles from here,
and the light that is falling upon us has taken eight minutes to come;
but I can make that flight, or any other, in a fraction of time so minute
that it cannot be measured by a watch. I have but to think the journey,
and it is accomplished."
I held out my hand and said, "The light lies upon it; think it into a
glass of wine, Satan."
He did it. I drank the wine.
"Break the glass," he said.
I broke it.
"There--you see it is real. The villagers thought the brass balls were
magic stuff and as perishable as smoke. They were afraid to touch them.
You are a curious lot--your race. But come along; I have business. I
will put you to bed." Said and done. Then he was gone; but his voice
came back to me through the rain and darkness saying, "Yes, tell Seppi,
but no other."
It was the answer to my thought.
Sleep would not come. It was not because I was proud of my travels and
excited about having been around the big world to China, and feeling
contemptuous of Bartel Sperling, "the traveler," as he called himself,
and looked down upon us others because he had been to Vienna once and was
the only Eseldorf boy who had made such a journey and seen the world's
wonders. At another time that would have kept me awake, but it did not
affect me now. No, my mind was filled with Nikolaus, my thoughts ran
upon him only, and the good days we had seen together at romps and
frolics in the woods and the fields and the river in the long summer
days, and skating and sliding in the winter when our parents thought we
were in school. And now he was going out of this young life, and the
summers and winters would come and go, and we others would rove and play
as before, but his place would be vacant; we should see him no more. To-
morrow he would not suspect, but would be as he had always been, and it
would shock me to hear him laugh, and see him do lightsome and frivolous
things, for to me he would be a corpse, with waxen hands and dull eyes,
and I should see the shroud around his face; and next day he would not
suspect, nor the next, and all the time his handful of days would be
wasting swiftly away and that awful thing coming nearer and nearer, his
fate closing steadily around him and no one knowing it but Seppi and me.
Twelve days--only twelve days. It was awful to think of. I noticed that
in my thoughts I was not calling him by his familiar names, Nick and
Nicky, but was speaking of him by his full name, and reverently, as one
speaks of the dead. Also, as incident after incident of our comradeship
came thronging into my mind out of the past, I noticed that they were
mainly cases where I had wronged him or hurt him, and they rebuked me and
reproached me, and my heart was wrung with remorse, just as it is when we
remember our unkindnesses to friends who have passed beyond the veil, and
we wish we could have them back again, if only for a moment, so that we
could go on our knees to them and say, "Have pity, and forgive."
Once when we were nine years old he went a long errand of nearly two
miles for the fruiterer, who gave him a splendid big apple for reward,
and he was flying home with it, almost beside himself with astonishment
and delight, and I met him, and he let me look at the apple, not thinking
of treachery, and I ran off with it, eating it as I ran, he following me
and begging; and when he overtook me I offered him the core, which was
all that was left; and I laughed. Then he turned away, crying, and said
he had meant to give it to his little sister. That smote me, for she was
slowly getting well of a sickness, and it would have been a proud moment
for him, to see her joy and surprise and have her caresses. But I was
ashamed to say I was ashamed, and only said something rude and mean, to
pretend I did not care, and he made no reply in words, but there was a
wounded look in his face as he turned away toward his home which rose
before me many times in after years, in the night, and reproached me and
made me ashamed again. It had grown dim in my mind, by and by, then it
disappeared; but it was back now, and not dim.
Once at school, when we were eleven, I upset my ink and spoiled four
copy-books, and was in danger of severe punishment; but I put it upon
him, and he got the whipping.
And only last year I had cheated him in a trade, giving him a large fish-
hook which was partly broken through for three small sound ones. The
first fish he caught broke the hook, but he did not know I was blamable,
and he refused to take back one of the small hooks which my conscience
forced me to offer him, but said, "A trade is a trade; the hook was bad,
but that was not your fault."
No, I could not sleep. These little, shabby wrongs upbraided me and
tortured me, and with a pain much sharper than one feels when the wrongs
have been done to the living. Nikolaus was living, but no matter; he was
to me as one already dead. The wind was still moaning about the eaves,
the rain still pattering upon the panes.
In the morning I sought out Seppi and told him. It was down by the
river. His lips moved, but he did not say anything, he only looked dazed
and stunned, and his face turned very white. He stood like that a few
moments, the tears welling into his eyes, then he turned away and I
locked my arm in his and we walked along thinking, but not speaking. We
crossed the bridge and wandered through the meadows and up among the
hills and the woods, and at last the talk came and flowed freely, and it
was all about Nikolaus and was a recalling of the life we had lived with
him. And every now and then Seppi said, as if to himself:
"Twelve days!--less than twelve days."
We said we must be with him all the time; we must have all of him we
could; the days were precious now. Yet we did not go to seek him. It
would be like meeting the dead, and we were afraid. We did not say it,
but that was what we were feeling. And so it gave us a shock when we
turned a curve and came upon Nikolaus face to face. He shouted, gaily:
"Hi-hi! What is the matter? Have you seen a ghost?"
We couldn't speak, but there was no occasion; he was willing to talk for
us all, for he had just seen Satan and was in high spirits about it.
Satan had told him about our trip to China, and he had begged Satan to
take him a journey, and Satan had promised. It was to be a far journey,
and wonderful and beautiful; and Nikolaus had begged him to take us, too,
but he said no, he would take us some day, maybe, but not now. Satan
would come for him on the 13th, and Nikolaus was already counting the
hours, he was so impatient.
That was the fatal day. We were already counting the hours, too.
We wandered many a mile, always following paths which had been our
favorites from the days when we were little, and always we talked about
the old times. All the blitheness was with Nikolaus; we others could not
shake off our depression. Our tone toward Nikolaus was so strangely
gentle and tender and yearning that he noticed it, and was pleased; and
we were constantly doing him deferential little offices of courtesy, and
saying, "Wait, let me do that for you," and that pleased him, too. I
gave him seven fish-hooks--all I had--and made him take them; and Seppi
gave him his new knife and a humming-top painted red and yellow--
atonements for swindles practised upon him formerly, as I learned later,
and probably no longer remembered by Nikolaus now. These things touched
him, and he could not have believed that we loved him so; and his pride
in it and gratefulness for it cut us to the heart, we were so undeserving
of them. When we parted at last, he was radiant, and said he had never
had such a happy day.
As we walked along homeward, Seppi said, "We always prized him, but never
so much as now, when we are going to lose him."
Next day and every day we spent all of our spare time with Nikolaus; and
also added to it time which we (and he) stole from work and other duties,
and this cost the three of us some sharp scoldings, and some threats of
punishment. Every morning two of us woke with a start and a shudder,
saying, as the days flew along, "Only ten days left;" "only nine days
left;" "only eight;" "only seven." Always it was narrowing. Always
Nikolaus was gay and happy, and always puzzled because we were not. He
wore his invention to the bone trying to invent ways to cheer us up, but
it was only a hollow success; he could see that our jollity had no heart
in it, and that the laughs we broke into came up against some obstruction
or other and suffered damage and decayed into a sigh. He tried to find
out what the matter was, so that he could help us out of our trouble or
make it lighter by sharing it with us; so we had to tell many lies to
deceive him and appease him.
But the most distressing thing of all was that he was always making
plans, and often they went beyond the 13th! Whenever that happened it
made us groan in spirit. All his mind was fixed upon finding some way to
conquer our depression and cheer us up; and at last, when he had but
three days to live, he fell upon the right idea and was jubilant over it-
-a boys-and-girls' frolic and dance in the woods, up there where we first
met Satan, and this was to occur on the 14th. It was ghastly, for that
was his funeral day. We couldn't venture to protest; it would only have
brought a "Why?" which we could not answer. He wanted us to help him
invite his guests, and we did it--one can refuse nothing to a dying
friend. But it was dreadful, for really we were inviting them to his
It was an awful eleven days; and yet, with a lifetime stretching back
between to-day and then, they are still a grateful memory to me, and
beautiful. In effect they were days of companionship with one's sacred
dead, and I have known no comradeship that was so close or so precious.
We clung to the hours and the minutes, counting them as they wasted away,
and parting with them with that pain and bereavement which a miser feels
who sees his hoard filched from him coin by coin by robbers and is
helpless to prevent it.
When the evening of the last day came we stayed out too long; Seppi and I
were in fault for that; we could not bear to part with Nikolaus; so it
was very late when we left him at his door. We lingered near awhile,
listening; and that happened which we were fearing. His father gave him
the promised punishment, and we heard his shrieks. But we listened only
a moment, then hurried away, remorseful for this thing which we had
caused. And sorry for the father, too; our thought being, "If he only
knew--if he only knew!"
In the morning Nikolaus did not meet us at the appointed place, so we
went to his home to see what the matter was. His mother said:
"His father is out of all patience with these goings-on, and will not
have any more of it. Half the time when Nick is needed he is not to be
found; then it turns out that he has been gadding around with you two.
His father gave him a flogging last night. It always grieved me before,
and many's the time I have begged him off and saved him, but this time he
appealed to me in vain, for I was out of patience myself."
"I wish you had saved him just this one time," I said, my voice trembling
a little; "it would ease a pain in your heart to remember it some day."
She was ironing at the time, and her back was partly toward me. She
turned about with a startled or wondering look in her face and said,
"What do you mean by that?"
I was not prepared, and didn't know anything to say; so it was awkward,
for she kept looking at me; but Seppi was alert and spoke up:
"Why, of course it would be pleasant to remember, for the very reason we
were out so late was that Nikolaus got to telling how good you are to
him, and how he never got whipped when you were by to save him; and he
was so full of it, and we were so full of the interest of it, that none
of us noticed how late it was getting."
"Did he say that? Did he?" and she put her apron to her eyes.
"You can ask Theodor--he will tell you the same."
"It is a dear, good lad, my Nick," she said. "I am sorry I let him get
whipped; I will never do it again. To think--all the time I was sitting
here last night, fretting and angry at him, he was loving me and praising
me! Dear, dear, if we could only know! Then we shouldn't ever go wrong;
but we are only poor, dumb beasts groping around and making mistakes. I
shan't ever think of last night without a pang."
She was like all the rest; it seemed as if nobody could open a mouth, in
these wretched days, without saying something that made us shiver. They
were "groping around," and did not know what true, sorrowfully true
things they were saying by accident.
Seppi asked if Nikolaus might go out with us.
"I am sorry," she answered, "but he can't. To punish him further, his
father doesn't allow him to go out of the house to-day."
We had a great hope! I saw it in Seppi's eyes. We thought, "If he
cannot leave the house, he cannot be drowned." Seppi asked, to make
"Must he stay in all day, or only the morning?"
"All day. It's such a pity, too; it's a beautiful day, and he is so
unused to being shut up. But he is busy planning his party, and maybe
that is company for him. I do hope he isn't too lonesome."
Seppi saw that in her eye which emboldened him to ask if we might go up
and help him pass his time.
"And welcome!" she said, right heartily. "Now I call that real
friendship, when you might be abroad in the fields and the woods, having
a happy time. You are good boys, I'll allow that, though you don't
always find satisfactory ways of improving it. Take these cakes--for
yourselves--and give him this one, from his mother."
The first thing we noticed when we entered Nikolaus's room was the time--
a quarter to 10. Could that be correct? Only such a few minutes to
live! I felt a contraction at my heart. Nikolaus jumped up and gave us
a glad welcome. He was in good spirits over his plannings for his party
and had not been lonesome.
"Sit down," he said, "and look at what I've been doing. And I've
finished a kite that you will say is a beauty. It's drying, in the
kitchen; I'll fetch it."
He had been spending his penny savings in fanciful trifles of various
kinds, to go as prizes in the games, and they were marshaled with fine
and showy effect upon the table. He said:
"Examine them at your leisure while I get mother to touch up the kite
with her iron if it isn't dry enough yet."
Then he tripped out and went clattering down-stairs, whistling.
We did not look at the things; we couldn't take any interest in anything
but the clock. We sat staring at it in silence, listening to the
ticking, and every time the minute-hand jumped we nodded recognition--one
minute fewer to cover in the race for life or for death. Finally Seppi
drew a deep breath and said:
"Two minutes to ten. Seven minutes more and he will pass the death-
point. Theodor, he is going to be saved! He's going to--"
"Hush! I'm on needles. Watch the clock and keep still."
Five minutes more. We were panting with the strain and the excitement.
Another three minutes, and there was a footstep on the stair.
"Saved!" And we jumped up and faced the door.
The old mother entered, bringing the kite. "Isn't it a beauty?" she
said. "And, dear me, how he has slaved over it--ever since daylight, I
think, and only finished it awhile before you came." She stood it
against the wall, and stepped back to take a view of it. "He drew the
pictures his own self, and I think they are very good. The church isn't
so very good, I'll have to admit, but look at the bridge--any one can
recognize the bridge in a minute. He asked me to bring it up.... Dear
me! it's seven minutes past ten, and I--"
"But where is he?"
"He? Oh, he'll be here soon; he's gone out a minute."
"Yes. Just as he came down-stairs little Lisa's mother came in and said
the child had wandered off somewhere, and as she was a little uneasy I
told Nikolaus to never mind about his father's orders--go and look her
up.... Why, how white you two do look! I do believe you are sick. Sit
down; I'll fetch something. That cake has disagreed with you. It is a
little heavy, but I thought--"
She disappeared without finishing her sentence, and we hurried at once to
the back window and looked toward the river. There was a great crowd at
the other end of the bridge, and people were flying toward that point
from every direction.
"Oh, it is all over--poor Nikolaus! Why, oh, why did she let him get out
of the house!"
"Come away," said Seppi, half sobbing, "come quick--we can't bear to meet
her; in five minutes she will know."
But we were not to escape. She came upon us at the foot of the stairs,
with her cordials in her hands, and made us come in and sit down and take
the medicine. Then she watched the effect, and it did not satisfy her;
so she made us wait longer, and kept upbraiding herself for giving us the
Presently the thing happened which we were dreading. There was a sound
of tramping and scraping outside, and a crowd came solemnly in, with
heads uncovered, and laid the two drowned bodies on the bed.
"Oh, my God!" that poor mother cried out, and fell on her knees, and put
her arms about her dead boy and began to cover the wet face with kisses.
"Oh, it was I that sent him, and I have been his death. If I had obeyed,
and kept him in the house, this would not have happened. And I am
rightly punished; I was cruel to him last night, and him begging me, his
own mother, to be his friend."
And so she went on and on, and all the women cried, and pitied her, and
tried to comfort her, but she could not forgive herself and could not be
comforted, and kept on saying if she had not sent him out he would be
alive and well now, and she was the cause of his death.
It shows how foolish people are when they blame themselves for anything
they have done. Satan knows, and he said nothing happens that your first
act hasn't arranged to happen and made inevitable; and so, of your own
motion you can't ever alter the scheme or do a thing that will break a
link. Next we heard screams, and Frau Brandt came wildly plowing and
plunging through the crowd with her dress in disorder and hair flying
loose, and flung herself upon her dead child with moans and kisses and
pleadings and endearments; and by and by she rose up almost exhausted
with her outpourings of passionate emotion, and clenched her fist and
lifted it toward the sky, and her tear-drenched face grew hard and
resentful, and she said:
"For nearly two weeks I have had dreams and presentiments and warnings
that death was going to strike what was most precious to me, and day and
night and night and day I have groveled in the dirt before Him praying
Him to have pity on my innocent child and save it from harm--and here is
Why, He had saved it from harm--but she did not know.
She wiped the tears from her eyes and cheeks, and stood awhile gazing
down at the child and caressing its face and its hair with her hands;
then she spoke again in that bitter tone: "But in His hard heart is no
compassion. I will never pray again."
She gathered her dead child to her bosom and strode away, the crowd
falling back to let her pass, and smitten dumb by the awful words they
had heard. Ah, that poor woman! It is as Satan said, we do not know
good fortune from bad, and are always mistaking the one for the other.
Many a time since I have heard people pray to God to spare the life of
sick persons, but I have never done it.
Both funerals took place at the same time in our little church next day.
Everybody was there, including the party guests. Satan was there, too;
which was proper, for it was on account of his efforts that the funerals
had happened. Nikolaus had departed this life without absolution, and a
collection was taken up for masses, to get him out of purgatory. Only
two-thirds of the required money was gathered, and the parents were going
to try to borrow the rest, but Satan furnished it. He told us privately
that there was no purgatory, but he had contributed in order that
Nikolaus's parents and their friends might be saved from worry and
distress. We thought it very good of him, but he said money did not cost
At the graveyard the body of little Lisa was seized for debt by a
carpenter to whom the mother owed fifty groschen for work done the year
before. She had never been able to pay this, and was not able now. The
carpenter took the corpse home and kept it four days in his cellar, the
mother weeping and imploring about his house all the time; then he buried
it in his brother's cattle-yard, without religious ceremonies. It drove
the mother wild with grief and shame, and she forsook her work and went
daily about the town, cursing the carpenter and blaspheming the laws of
the emperor and the church, and it was pitiful to see. Seppi asked Satan
to interfere, but he said the carpenter and the rest were members of the
human race and were acting quite neatly for that species of animal. He
would interfere if he found a horse acting in such a way, and we must
inform him when we came across that kind of horse doing that kind of
human thing, so that he could stop it. We believed this was sarcasm, for
of course there wasn't any such horse.
But after a few days we found that we could not abide that poor woman's
distress, so we begged Satan to examine her several possible careers, and
see if he could not change her, to her profit, to a new one. He said the
longest of her careers as they now stood gave her forty-two years to
live, and her shortest one twenty-nine, and that both were charged with
grief and hunger and cold and pain. The only improvement he could make
would be to enable her to skip a certain three minutes from now; and he
asked us if he should do it. This was such a short time to decide in
that we went to pieces with nervous excitement, and before we could pull
ourselves together and ask for particulars he said the time would be up
in a few more seconds; so then we gasped out, "Do it!"
"It is done," he said; "she was going around a corner; I have turned her
back; it has changed her career."
"Then what will happen, Satan?"
"It is happening now. She is having words with Fischer, the weaver. In
his anger Fischer will straightway do what he would not have done but for
this accident. He was present when she stood over her child's body and
uttered those blasphemies."
"What will he do?"
"He is doing it now--betraying her. In three days she will go to the
We could not speak; we were frozen with horror, for if we had not meddled
with her career she would have been spared this awful fate. Satan
noticed these thoughts, and said:
"What you are thinking is strictly human-like--that is to say, foolish.
The woman is advantaged. Die when she might, she would go to heaven. By
this prompt death she gets twenty-nine years more of heaven than she is
entitled to, and escapes twenty-nine years of misery here."
A moment before we were bitterly making up our minds that we would ask no
more favors of Satan for friends of ours, for he did not seem to know any
way to do a person a kindness but by killing him; but the whole aspect of
the case was changed now, and we were glad of what we had done and full
of happiness in the thought of it.
After a little I began to feel troubled about Fischer, and asked,
timidly, "Does this episode change Fischer's life-scheme, Satan?"
"Change it? Why, certainly. And radically. If he had not met Frau
Brandt awhile ago he would die next year, thirty-four years of age. Now
he will live to be ninety, and have a pretty prosperous and comfortable
life of it, as human lives go."
We felt a great joy and pride in what we had done for Fischer, and were
expecting Satan to sympathize with this feeling; but he showed no sign
and this made us uneasy. We waited for him to speak, but he didn't; so,
to assuage our solicitude we had to ask him if there was any defect in
Fischer's good luck. Satan considered the question a moment, then said,
with some hesitation:
"Well, the fact is, it is a delicate point. Under his several former
possible life-careers he was going to heaven."
We were aghast. "Oh, Satan! and under this one--"
"There, don't be so distressed. You were sincerely trying to do him a
kindness; let that comfort you."
"Oh, dear, dear, that cannot comfort us. You ought to have told us what
we were doing, then we wouldn't have acted so."
But it made no impression on him. He had never felt a pain or a sorrow,
and did not know what they were, in any really informing way. He had no
knowledge of them except theoretically--that is to say, intellectually.
And of course that is no good. One can never get any but a loose and
ignorant notion of such things except by experience. We tried our best
to make him comprehend the awful thing that had been done and how we were
compromised by it, but he couldn't seem to get hold of it. He said he
did not think it important where Fischer went to; in heaven he would not
be missed, there were "plenty there." We tried to make him see that he
was missing the point entirely; that Fischer, and not other people, was
the proper one to decide about the importance of it; but it all went for
nothing; he said he did not care for Fischer--there were plenty more
The next minute Fischer went by on the other side of the way, and it made
us sick and faint to see him, remembering the doom that was upon him, and
we the cause of it. And how unconscious he was that anything had
happened to him! You could see by his elastic step and his alert manner
that he was well satisfied with himself for doing that hard turn for poor
Frau Brandt. He kept glancing back over his shoulder expectantly. And,
sure enough, pretty soon Frau Brandt followed after, in charge of the
officers and wearing jingling chains. A mob was in her wake, jeering and
shouting, "Blasphemer and heretic!" and some among them were neighbors
and friends of her happier days. Some were trying to strike her, and the
officers were not taking as much trouble as they might to keep them from
"Oh, stop them, Satan!" It was out before we remembered that he could not
interrupt them for a moment without changing their whole after-lives. He
puffed a little puff toward them with his lips and they began to reel and
stagger and grab at the empty air; then they broke apart and fled in
every direction, shrieking, as if in intolerable pain. He had crushed a
rib of each of them with that little puff. We could not help asking if
their life-chart was changed.
"Yes, entirely. Some have gained years, some have lost them. Some few
will profit in various ways by the change, but only that few."
We did not ask if we had brought poor Fischer's luck to any of them. We
did not wish to know. We fully believed in Satan's desire to do us
kindnesses, but we were losing confidence in his judgment. It was at
this time that our growing anxiety to have him look over our life-charts
and suggest improvements began to fade out and give place to other
For a day or two the whole village was a chattering turmoil over Frau
Brandt's case and over the mysterious calamity that had overtaken the
mob, and at her trial the place was crowded. She was easily convicted of
her blasphemies, for she uttered those terrible words again and said she
would not take them back. When warned that she was imperiling her life,
she said they could take it in welcome, she did not want it, she would
rather live with the professional devils in perdition than with these
imitators in the village. They accused her of breaking all those ribs by
witchcraft, and asked her if she was not a witch? She answered
"No. If I had that power would any of you holy hypocrites be alive five
minutes? No; I would strike you all dead. Pronounce your sentence and
let me go; I am tired of your society."
So they found her guilty, and she was excommunicated and cut off from the
joys of heaven and doomed to the fires of hell; then she was clothed in a
coarse robe and delivered to the secular arm, and conducted to the
market-place, the bell solemnly tolling the while. We saw her chained to
the stake, and saw the first film of blue smoke rise on the still air.
Then her hard face softened, and she looked upon the packed crowd in
front of her and said, with gentleness:
"We played together once, in long-agone days when we were innocent little
creatures. For the sake of that, I forgive you."
We went away then, and did not see the fires consume her, but we heard
the shrieks, although we put our fingers in our ears. When they ceased
we knew she was in heaven, notwithstanding the excommunication; and we
were glad of her death and not sorry that we had brought it about.
One day, a little while after this, Satan appeared again. We were always
watching out for him, for life was never very stagnant when he was by.
He came upon us at that place in the woods where we had first met him.
Being boys, we wanted to be entertained; we asked him to do a show for
"Very well," he said; "would you like to see a history of the progress of
the human race?--its development of that product which it calls
We said we should.
So, with a thought, he turned the place into the Garden of Eden, and we
saw Abel praying by his altar; then Cain came walking toward him with his
club, and did not seem to see us, and would have stepped on my foot if I
had not drawn it in. He spoke to his brother in a language which we did
not understand; then he grew violent and threatening, and we knew what
was going to happen, and turned away our heads for the moment; but we
heard the crash of the blows and heard the shrieks and the groans; then
there was silence, and we saw Abel lying in his blood and gasping out his
life, and Cain standing over him and looking down at him, vengeful and
Then the vision vanished, and was followed by a long series of unknown
wars, murders, and massacres. Next we had the Flood, and the Ark tossing
around in the stormy waters, with lofty mountains in the distance showing
veiled and dim through the rain. Satan said:
"The progress of your race was not satisfactory. It is to have another
The scene changed, and we saw Noah overcome with wine.
Next, we had Sodom and Gomorrah, and "the attempt to discover two or
three respectable persons there," as Satan described it. Next, Lot and
his daughters in the cave.
Next came the Hebraic wars, and we saw the victors massacre the survivors
and their cattle, and save the young girls alive and distribute them
Next we had Jael; and saw her slip into the tent and drive the nail into
the temple of her sleeping guest; and we were so close that when the
blood gushed out it trickled in a little, red stream to our feet, and we
could have stained our hands in it if we had wanted to.
Next we had Egyptian wars, Greek wars, Roman wars, hideous drenchings of
the earth with blood; and we saw the treacheries of the Romans toward the
Carthaginians, and the sickening spectacle of the massacre of those brave
people. Also we saw Caesar invade Britain--"not that those barbarians
had done him any harm, but because he wanted their land, and desired to
confer the blessings of civilization upon their widows and orphans," as
Next, Christianity was born. Then ages of Europe passed in review before
us, and we saw Christianity and Civilization march hand in hand through
those ages, "leaving famine and death and desolation in their wake, and
other signs of the progress of the human race," as Satan observed.
And always we had wars, and more wars, and still other wars--all over
Europe, all over the world. "Sometimes in the private interest of royal
families," Satan said, "sometimes to crush a weak nation; but never a war
started by the aggressor for any clean purpose--there is no such war in
the history of the race."
"Now," said Satan, "you have seen your progress down to the present, and
you must confess that it is wonderful--in its way. We must now exhibit
He showed us slaughters more terrible in their destruction of life, more
devastating in their engines of war, than any we had seen.
"You perceive," he said, "that you have made continual progress. Cain
did his murder with a club; the Hebrews did their murders with javelins
and swords; the Greeks and Romans added protective armor and the fine
arts of military organization and generalship; the Christian has added
guns and gunpowder; a few centuries from now he will have so greatly
improved the deadly effectiveness of his weapons of slaughter that all
men will confess that without Christian civilization war must have
remained a poor and trifling thing to the end of time."
Then he began to laugh in the most unfeeling way, and make fun of the
human race, although he knew that what he had been saying shamed us and
wounded us. No one but an angel could have acted so; but suffering is
nothing to them; they do not know what it is, except by hearsay.
More than once Seppi and I had tried in a humble and diffident way to
convert him, and as he had remained silent we had taken his silence as a
sort of encouragement; necessarily, then, this talk of his was a
disappointment to us, for it showed that we had made no deep impression
upon him. The thought made us sad, and we knew then how the missionary
must feel when he has been cherishing a glad hope and has seen it
blighted. We kept our grief to ourselves, knowing that this was not the
time to continue our work.
Satan laughed his unkind laugh to a finish; then he said: "It is a
remarkable progress. In five or six thousand years five or six high
civilizations have risen, flourished, commanded the wonder of the world,
then faded out and disappeared; and not one of them except the latest
ever invented any sweeping and adequate way to kill people. They all did
their best--to kill being the chiefest ambition of the human race and the
earliest incident in its history--but only the Christian civilization has
scored a triumph to be proud of. Two or three centuries from now it will
be recognized that all the competent killers are Christians; then the
pagan world will go to school to the Christian--not to acquire his
religion, but his guns. The Turk and the Chinaman will buy those to kill
missionaries and converts with."
By this time his theater was at work again, and before our eyes nation
after nation drifted by, during two or three centuries, a mighty
procession, an endless procession, raging, struggling, wallowing through
seas of blood, smothered in battle-smoke through which the flags glinted
and the red jets from the cannon darted; and always we heard the thunder
of the guns and the cries of the dying.
"And what does it amount to?" said Satan, with his evil chuckle.
"Nothing at all. You gain nothing; you always come out where you went
in. For a million years the race has gone on monotonously propagating
itself and monotonously reperforming this dull nonsense--to what end? No
wisdom can guess! Who gets a profit out of it? Nobody but a parcel of
usurping little monarchs and nobilities who despise you; would feel
defiled if you touched them; would shut the door in your face if you
proposed to call; whom you slave for, fight for, die for, and are not
ashamed of it, but proud; whose existence is a perpetual insult to you
and you are afraid to resent it; who are mendicants supported by your
alms, yet assume toward you the airs of benefactor toward beggar; who
address you in the language of master to slave, and are answered in the
language of slave to master; who are worshiped by you with your mouth,
while in your heart--if you have one--you despise yourselves for it. The
first man was a hypocrite and a coward, qualities which have not yet
failed in his line; it is the foundation upon which all civilizations
have been built. Drink to their perpetuation! Drink to their
augmentation! Drink to--" Then he saw by our faces how much we were
hurt, and he cut his sentence short and stopped chuckling, and his manner
changed. He said, gently: "No, we will drink one another's health, and
let civilization go. The wine which has flown to our hands out of space
by desire is earthly, and good enough for that other toast; but throw
away the glasses; we will drink this one in wine which has not visited
this world before."
We obeyed, and reached up and received the new cups as they descended.
They were shapely and beautiful goblets, but they were not made of any
material that we were acquainted with. They seemed to be in motion, they
seemed to be alive; and certainly the colors in them were in motion.
They were very brilliant and sparkling, and of every tint, and they were
never still, but flowed to and fro in rich tides which met and broke and
flashed out dainty explosions of enchanting color. I think it was most
like opals washing about in waves and flashing out their splendid fires.
But there is nothing to compare the wine with. We drank it, and felt a
strange and witching ecstasy as of heaven go stealing through us, and
Seppi's eyes filled and he said worshipingly:
"We shall be there some day, and then--"
He glanced furtively at Satan, and I think he hoped Satan would say,
"Yes, you will be there some day," but Satan seemed to be thinking about
something else, and said nothing. This made me feel ghastly, for I knew
he had heard; nothing, spoken or unspoken, ever escaped him. Poor Seppi
looked distressed, and did not finish his remark. The goblets rose and
clove their way into the sky, a triplet of radiant sundogs, and
disappeared. Why didn't they stay? It seemed a bad sign, and depressed
me. Should I ever see mine again? Would Seppi ever see his?
It was wonderful, the mastery Satan had over time and distance. For him
they did not exist. He called them human inventions, and said they were
artificialities. We often went to the most distant parts of the globe
with him, and stayed weeks and months, and yet were gone only a fraction
of a second, as a rule. You could prove it by the clock. One day when
our people were in such awful distress because the witch commission were
afraid to proceed against the astrologer and Father Peter's household, or
against any, indeed, but the poor and the friendless, they lost patience
and took to witch-hunting on their own score, and began to chase a born
lady who was known to have the habit of curing people by devilish arts,
such as bathing them, washing them, and nourishing them instead of
bleeding them and purging them through the ministrations of a barber-
surgeon in the proper way. She came flying down, with the howling and
cursing mob after her, and tried to take refuge in houses, but the doors
were shut in her face. They chased her more than half an hour, we
following to see it, and at last she was exhausted and fell, and they
caught her. They dragged her to a tree and threw a rope over the limb,
and began to make a noose in it, some holding her, meantime, and she
crying and begging, and her young daughter looking on and weeping, but
afraid to say or do anything.
They hanged the lady, and I threw a stone at her, although in my heart I
was sorry for her; but all were throwing stones and each was watching his
neighbor, and if I had not done as the others did it would have been
noticed and spoken of. Satan burst out laughing.
All that were near by turned upon him, astonished and not pleased. It
was an ill time to laugh, for his free and scoffing ways and his
supernatural music had brought him under suspicion all over the town and
turned many privately against him. The big blacksmith called attention
to him now, raising his voice so that all should hear, and said:
"What are you laughing at? Answer! Moreover, please explain to the
company why you threw no stone."
"Are you sure I did not throw a stone?"
"Yes. You needn't try to get out of it; I had my eye on you."
"And I--I noticed you!" shouted two others.
"Three witnesses," said Satan: "Mueller, the blacksmith; Klein, the
butcher's man; Pfeiffer, the weaver's journeyman. Three very ordinary
liars. Are there any more?"
"Never mind whether there are others or not, and never mind about what
you consider us--three's enough to settle your matter for you. You'll
prove that you threw a stone, or it shall go hard with you."
"That's so!" shouted the crowd, and surged up as closely as they could to
the center of interest.
"And first you will answer that other question," cried the blacksmith,
pleased with himself for being mouthpiece to the public and hero of the
occasion. "What are you laughing at?"
Satan smiled and answered, pleasantly: "To see three cowards stoning a
dying lady when they were so near death themselves."
You could see the superstitious crowd shrink and catch their breath,
under the sudden shock. The blacksmith, with a show of bravado, said:
"Pooh! What do you know about it?"
"I? Everything. By profession I am a fortune-teller, and I read the
hands of you three--and some others--when you lifted them to stone the
woman. One of you will die to-morrow week; another of you will die to-
night; the third has but five minutes to live--and yonder is the clock!"
It made a sensation. The faces of the crowd blanched, and turned
mechanically toward the clock. The butcher and the weaver seemed smitten
with an illness, but the blacksmith braced up and said, with spirit:
"It is not long to wait for prediction number one. If it fails, young
master, you will not live a whole minute after, I promise you that."
No one said anything; all watched the clock in a deep stillness which was
impressive. When four and a half minutes were gone the blacksmith gave a
sudden gasp and clapped his hands upon his heart, saying, "Give me
breath! Give me room!" and began to sink down. The crowd surged back,
no one offering to support him, and he fell lumbering to the ground and
was dead. The people stared at him, then at Satan, then at one another;
and their lips moved, but no words came. Then Satan said:
"Three saw that I threw no stone. Perhaps there are others; let them
It struck a kind of panic into them, and, although no one answered him,
many began to violently accuse one another, saying, "You said he didn't
throw," and getting for reply, "It is a lie, and I will make you eat it!"
And so in a moment they were in a raging and noisy turmoil, and beating
and banging one another; and in the midst was the only indifferent one--
the dead lady hanging from her rope, her troubles forgotten, her spirit
So we walked away, and I was not at ease, but was saying to myself, "He
told them he was laughing at them, but it was a lie--he was laughing at
That made him laugh again, and he said, "Yes, I was laughing at you,
because, in fear of what others might report about you, you stoned the
woman when your heart revolted at the act--but I was laughing at the
"Because their case was yours."
"How is that?"
"Well, there were sixty-eight people there, and sixty-two of them had no
more desire to throw a stone than you had."
"Oh, it's true. I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is
governed by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its
feelings and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most
noise. Sometimes the noisy handful is right, sometimes wrong; but no
matter, the crowd follows it. The vast majority of the race, whether
savage or civilized, are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting
pain, but in the presence of the aggressive and pitiless minority they
don't dare to assert themselves. Think of it! One kind-hearted creature
spies upon another, and sees to it that he loyally helps in iniquities
which revolt both of them. Speaking as an expert, I know that ninety-
nine out of a hundred of your race were strongly against the killing of
witches when that foolishness was first agitated by a handful of pious
lunatics in the long ago. And I know that even to-day, after ages of
transmitted prejudice and silly teaching, only one person in twenty puts
any real heart into the harrying of a witch. And yet apparently
everybody hates witches and wants them killed. Some day a handful will
rise up on the other side and make the most noise--perhaps even a single
daring man with a big voice and a determined front will do it--and in a
week all the sheep will wheel and follow him, and witch-hunting will come
to a sudden end.
"Monarchies, aristocracies, and religions are all based upon that large
defect in your race--the individual's distrust of his neighbor, and his
desire, for safety's or comfort's sake, to stand well in his neighbor's
eye. These institutions will always remain, and always flourish, and
always oppress you, affront you, and degrade you, because you will always
be and remain slaves of minorities. There was never a country where the
majority of the people were in their secret hearts loyal to any of these
I did not like to hear our race called sheep, and said I did not think
"Still, it is true, lamb," said Satan. "Look at you in war--what mutton
you are, and how ridiculous!"
"In war? How?"
"There has never been a just one, never an honorable one--on the part of
the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this
rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud
little handful--as usual--will shout for the war. The pulpit will--
warily and cautiously--object--at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the
nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a
war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, "It is unjust and
dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it." Then the handful will
shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason
against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and
be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them,
and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity.
Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the
platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their
secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers--as earlier--
but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation--pulpit and all--
will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man
who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to
open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon
the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those
conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse
to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince
himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he
enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."
Days and days went by now, and no Satan. It was dull without him. But
the astrologer, who had returned from his excursion to the moon, went
about the village, braving public opinion, and getting a stone in the
middle of his back now and then when some witch-hater got a safe chance
to throw it and dodge out of sight. Meantime two influences had been
working well for Marget. That Satan, who was quite indifferent to her,
had stopped going to her house after a visit or two had hurt her pride,
and she had set herself the task of banishing him from her heart.
Reports of Wilhelm Meidling's dissipation brought to her from time to
time by old Ursula had touched her with remorse, jealousy of Satan being
the cause of it; and so now, these two matters working upon her together,
she was getting a good profit out of the combination--her interest in
Satan was steadily cooling, her interest in Wilhelm as steadily warming.
All that was needed to complete her conversion was that Wilhelm should
brace up and do something that should cause favorable talk and incline
the public toward him again.
The opportunity came now. Marget sent and asked him to defend her uncle
in the approaching trial, and he was greatly pleased, and stopped
drinking and began his preparations with diligence. With more diligence
than hope, in fact, for it was not a promising case. He had many
interviews in his office with Seppi and me, and threshed out our
testimony pretty thoroughly, thinking to find some valuable grains among
the chaff, but the harvest was poor, of course.
If Satan would only come! That was my constant thought. He could invent
some way to win the case; for he had said it would be won, so he
necessarily knew how it could be done. But the days dragged on, and
still he did not come. Of course I did not doubt that it would be won,
and that Father Peter would be happy for the rest of his life, since
Satan had said so; yet I knew I should be much more comfortable if he
would come and tell us how to manage it. It was getting high time for
Father Peter to have a saving change toward happiness, for by general
report he was worn out with his imprisonment and the ignominy that was
burdening him, and was like to die of his miseries unless he got relief
At last the trial came on, and the people gathered from all around to
witness it; among them many strangers from considerable distances. Yes,
everybody was there except the accused. He was too feeble in body for
the strain. But Marget was present, and keeping up her hope and her
spirit the best she could. The money was present, too. It was emptied
on the table, and was handled and caressed and examined by such as were
The astrologer was put in the witness-box. He had on his best hat and
robe for the occasion.
QUESTION. You claim that this money is yours?
ANSWER. I do.
Q. How did you come by it?
A. I found the bag in the road when I was returning from a journey.
A. More than two years ago.
Q. What did you do with it?
A. I brought it home and hid it in a secret place in my observatory,
intending to find the owner if I could.
Q. You endeavored to find him?
A. I made diligent inquiry during several months, but nothing came of
Q. And then?
A. I thought it not worth while to look further, and was minded to use
the money in finishing the wing of the foundling-asylum connected with
the priory and nunnery. So I took it out of its hiding-place and counted
it to see if any of it was missing. And then--
Q. Why do you stop? Proceed.
A. I am sorry to have to say this, but just as I had finished and was
restoring the bag to its place, I looked up and there stood Father Peter
Several murmured, "That looks bad," but others answered, "Ah, but he is
such a liar!"
Q. That made you uneasy?
A. No; I thought nothing of it at the time, for Father Peter often came
to me unannounced to ask for a little help in his need.
Marget blushed crimson at hearing her uncle falsely and impudently
charged with begging, especially from one he had always denounced as a
fraud, and was going to speak, but remembered herself in time and held
A. In the end I was afraid to contribute the money to the foundling-
asylum, but elected to wait yet another year and continue my inquiries.
When I heard of Father Peter's find I was glad, and no suspicion entered
my mind; when I came home a day or two later and discovered that my own
money was gone I still did not suspect until three circumstances
connected with Father Peter's good fortune struck me as being singular
Q. Pray name them.
A. Father Peter had found his money in a path--I had found mine in a
road. Father Peter's find consisted exclusively of gold ducats--mine
also. Father Peter found eleven hundred and seven ducats--I exactly the
This closed his evidence, and certainly it made a strong impression on
the house; one could see that.
Wilhelm Meidling asked him some questions, then called us boys, and we
told our tale. It made the people laugh, and we were ashamed. We were
feeling pretty badly, anyhow, because Wilhelm was hopeless, and showed
it. He was doing as well as he could, poor young fellow, but nothing was
in his favor, and such sympathy as there was was now plainly not with his
client. It might be difficult for court and people to believe the
astrologer's story, considering his character, but it was almost
impossible to believe Father Peter's. We were already feeling badly
enough, but when the astrologer's lawyer said he believed he would not
ask us any questions--for our story was a little delicate and it would be
cruel for him to put any strain upon it--everybody tittered, and it was
almost more than we could bear. Then he made a sarcastic little speech,
and got so much fun out of our tale, and it seemed so ridiculous and
childish and every way impossible and foolish, that it made everybody
laugh till the tears came; and at last Marget could not keep up her
courage any longer, but broke down and cried, and I was so sorry for her.
Now I noticed something that braced me up. It was Satan standing
alongside of Wilhelm! And there was such a contrast!--Satan looked so
confident, had such a spirit in his eyes and face, and Wilhelm looked so
depressed and despondent. We two were comfortable now, and judged that
he would testify and persuade the bench and the people that black was
white and white black, or any other color he wanted it. We glanced
around to see what the strangers in the house thought of him, for he was
beautiful, you know--stunning, in fact--but no one was noticing him; so
we knew by that that he was invisible.
The lawyer was saying his last words; and while he was saying them Satan
began to melt into Wilhelm. He melted into him and disappeared; and then
there was a change, when his spirit began to look out of Wilhelm's eyes.
That lawyer finished quite seriously, and with dignity. He pointed to
the money, and said:
"The love of it is the root of all evil. There it lies, the ancient
tempter, newly red with the shame of its latest victory--the dishonor of
a priest of God and his two poor juvenile helpers in crime. If it could
but speak, let us hope that it would be constrained to confess that of
all its conquests this was the basest and the most pathetic."
He sat down. Wilhelm rose and said:
"From the testimony of the accuser I gather that he found this money in a
road more than two years ago. Correct me, sir, if I misunderstood you."
The astrologer said his understanding of it was correct.
"And the money so found was never out of his hands thenceforth up to a
certain definite date--the last day of last year. Correct me, sir, if I
The astrologer nodded his head. Wilhelm turned to the bench and said:
"If I prove that this money here was not that money, then it is not his?"
"Certainly not; but this is irregular. If you had such a witness it was
your duty to give proper notice of it and have him here to--" He broke
off and began to consult with the other judges. Meantime that other
lawyer got up excited and began to protest against allowing new witnesses
to be brought into the case at this late stage.
The judges decided that his contention was just and must be allowed.
"But this is not a new witness," said Wilhelm. "It has already been
partly examined. I speak of the coin."
"The coin? What can the coin say?"
"It can say it is not the coin that the astrologer once possessed. It
can say it was not in existence last December. By its date it can say
And it was so! There was the greatest excitement in the court while that
lawyer and the judges were reaching for coins and examining them and
exclaiming. And everybody was full of admiration of Wilhelm's brightness
in happening to think of that neat idea. At last order was called and
the court said:
"All of the coins but four are of the date of the present year. The
court tenders its sincere sympathy to the accused, and its deep regret
that he, an innocent man, through an unfortunate mistake, has suffered
the undeserved humiliation of imprisonment and trial. The case is
So the money could speak, after all, though that lawyer thought it
couldn't. The court rose, and almost everybody came forward to shake
hands with Marget and congratulate her, and then to shake with Wilhelm
and praise him; and Satan had stepped out of Wilhelm and was standing
around looking on full of interest, and people walking through him every
which way, not knowing he was there. And Wilhelm could not explain why
he only thought of the date on the coins at the last moment, instead of
earlier; he said it just occurred to him, all of a sudden, like an
inspiration, and he brought it right out without any hesitation, for,
although he didn't examine the coins, he seemed, somehow, to know it was
true. That was honest of him, and like him; another would have pretended
he had thought of it earlier, and was keeping it back for a surprise.
He had dulled down a little now; not much, but still you could notice
that he hadn't that luminous look in his eyes that he had while Satan was
in him. He nearly got it back, though, for a moment when Marget came and
praised him and thanked him and couldn't keep him from seeing how proud
she was of him. The astrologer went off dissatisfied and cursing, and
Solomon Isaacs gathered up the money and carried it away. It was Father
Peter's for good and all, now.
Satan was gone. I judged that he had spirited himself away to the jail
to tell the prisoner the news; and in this I was right. Marget and the
rest of us hurried thither at our best speed, in a great state of
Well, what Satan had done was this: he had appeared before that poor
prisoner, exclaiming, "The trial is over, and you stand forever disgraced
as a thief--by verdict of the court!"
The shock unseated the old man's reason. When we arrived, ten minutes
later, he was parading pompously up and down and delivering commands to
this and that and the other constable or jailer, and calling them Grand
Chamberlain, and Prince This and Prince That, and Admiral of the Fleet,
Field Marshal in Command, and all such fustian, and was as happy as a
bird. He thought he was Emperor!
Marget flung herself on his breast and cried, and indeed everybody was
moved almost to heartbreak. He recognized Marget, but could not
understand why she should cry. He patted her on the shoulder and said:
"Don't do it, dear; remember, there are witnesses, and it is not becoming
in the Crown Princess. Tell me your trouble--it shall be mended; there
is nothing the Emperor cannot do." Then he looked around and saw old
Ursula with her apron to her eyes. He was puzzled at that, and said,
"And what is the matter with you?"
Through her sobs she got out words explaining that she was distressed to
see him--"so." He reflected over that a moment, then muttered, as if to
himself: "A singular old thing, the Dowager Duchess--means well, but is
always snuffling and never able to tell what it is about. It is because
she doesn't know." His eyes fell on Wilhelm. "Prince of India," he
said, "I divine that it is you that the Crown Princess is concerned
about. Her tears shall be dried; I will no longer stand between you; she
shall share your throne; and between you you shall inherit mine. There,
little lady, have I done well? You can smile now--isn't it so?"
He petted Marget and kissed her, and was so contented with himself and
with everybody that he could not do enough for us all, but began to give
away kingdoms and such things right and left, and the least that any of
us got was a principality. And so at last, being persuaded to go home,
he marched in imposing state; and when the crowds along the way saw how
it gratified him to be hurrahed at, they humored him to the top of his
desire, and he responded with condescending bows and gracious smiles, and
often stretched out a hand and said, "Bless you, my people!"
As pitiful a sight as ever I saw. And Marget, and old Ursula crying all
On my road home I came upon Satan, and reproached him with deceiving me
with that lie. He was not embarrassed, but said, quite simply and
"Ah, you mistake; it was the truth. I said he would be happy the rest of
his days, and he will, for he will always think he is the Emperor, and
his pride in it and his joy in it will endure to the end. He is now, and
will remain, the one utterly happy person in this empire."
"But the method of it, Satan, the method! Couldn't you have done it
without depriving him of his reason?"
It was difficult to irritate Satan, but that accomplished it.
"What an ass you are!" he said. "Are you so unobservant as not to have
found out that sanity and happiness are an impossible combination? No
sane man can be happy, for to him life is real, and he sees what a
fearful thing it is. Only the mad can be happy, and not many of those.
The few that imagine themselves kings or gods are happy, the rest are no
happier than the sane. Of course, no man is entirely in his right mind
at any time, but I have been referring to the extreme cases. I have
taken from this man that trumpery thing which the race regards as a Mind;
I have replaced his tin life with a silver-gilt fiction; you see the
result--and you criticize! I said I would make him permanently happy,
and I have done it. I have made him happy by the only means possible to
his race--and you are not satisfied!" He heaved a discouraged sigh, and
said, "It seems to me that this race is hard to please."
There it was, you see. He didn't seem to know any way to do a person a
favor except by killing him or making a lunatic out of him. I
apologized, as well as I could; but privately I did not think much of his
processes--at that time.
Satan was accustomed to say that our race lived a life of continuous and
uninterrupted self-deception. It duped itself from cradle to grave with
shams and delusions which it mistook for realities, and this made its
entire life a sham. Of the score of fine qualities which it imagined it
had and was vain of, it really possessed hardly one. It regarded itself
as gold, and was only brass. One day when he was in this vein he
mentioned a detail--the sense of humor. I cheered up then, and took
issue. I said we possessed it.
"There spoke the race!" he said; "always ready to claim what it hasn't
got, and mistake its ounce of brass filings for a ton of gold-dust. You
have a mongrel perception of humor, nothing more; a multitude of you
possess that. This multitude see the comic side of a thousand low-grade
and trivial things--broad incongruities, mainly; grotesqueries,
absurdities, evokers of the horse-laugh. The ten thousand high-grade
comicalities which exist in the world are sealed from their dull vision.
Will a day come when the race will detect the funniness of these
juvenilities and laugh at them--and by laughing at them destroy them?
For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective
weapon--laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution--
these can lift at a colossal humbug--push it a little--weaken it a
little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and
atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.
You are always fussing and fighting with your other weapons. Do you ever
use that one? No; you leave it lying rusting. As a race, do you ever
use it at all? No; you lack sense and the courage."
We were traveling at the time and stopped at a little city in India and
looked on while a juggler did his tricks before a group of natives. They
were wonderful, but I knew Satan could beat that game, and I begged him
to show off a little, and he said he would. He changed himself into a
native in turban and breech-cloth, and very considerately conferred on me
a temporary knowledge of the language.
The juggler exhibited a seed, covered it with earth in a small flower-
pot, then put a rag over the pot; after a minute the rag began to rise;
in ten minutes it had risen a foot; then the rag was removed and a little
tree was exposed, with leaves upon it and ripe fruit. We ate the fruit,
and it was good. But Satan said:
"Why do you cover the pot? Can't you grow the tree in the sunlight?"
"No," said the juggler; "no one can do that."
"You are only an apprentice; you don't know your trade. Give me the
seed. I will show you." He took the seed and said, "What shall I raise
"It is a cherry seed; of course you will raise a cherry."
"Oh no; that is a trifle; any novice can do that. Shall I raise an
orange-tree from it?"
"Oh yes!" and the juggler laughed.
"And shall I make it bear other fruits as well as oranges?"
"If God wills!" and they all laughed.
Satan put the seed in the ground, put a handful of dust on it, and said,
A tiny stem shot up and began to grow, and grew so fast that in five
minutes it was a great tree, and we were sitting in the shade of it.
There was a murmur of wonder, then all looked up and saw a strange and
pretty sight, for the branches were heavy with fruits of many kinds and
colors--oranges, grapes, bananas, peaches, cherries, apricots, and so on.
Baskets were brought, and the unlading of the tree began; and the people
crowded around Satan and kissed his hand, and praised him, calling him
the prince of jugglers. The news went about the town, and everybody came
running to see the wonder--and they remembered to bring baskets, too.
But the tree was equal to the occasion; it put out new fruits as fast as
any were removed; baskets were filled by the score and by the hundred,
but always the supply remained undiminished. At last a foreigner in
white linen and sun-helmet arrived, and exclaimed, angrily:
"Away from here! Clear out, you dogs; the tree is on my lands and is my
The natives put down their baskets and made humble obeisance. Satan made
humble obeisance, too, with his fingers to his forehead, in the native
way, and said:
"Please let them have their pleasure for an hour, sir--only that, and no
longer. Afterward you may forbid them; and you will still have more
fruit than you and the state together can consume in a year."
This made the foreigner very angry, and he cried out, "Who are you, you
vagabond, to tell your betters what they may do and what they mayn't!"
and he struck Satan with his cane and followed this error with a kick.
The fruits rotted on the branches, and the leaves withered and fell. The
foreigner gazed at the bare limbs with the look of one who is surprised,
and not gratified. Satan said:
"Take good care of the tree, for its health and yours are bound together.
It will never bear again, but if you tend it well it will live long.
Water its roots once in each hour every night--and do it yourself; it
must not be done by proxy, and to do it in daylight will not answer. If
you fail only once in any night, the tree will die, and you likewise. Do
not go home to your own country any more--you would not reach there; make
no business or pleasure engagements which require you to go outside your
gate at night--you cannot afford the risk; do not rent or sell this
place--it would be injudicious."
The foreigner was proud and wouldn't beg, but I thought he looked as if
he would like to. While he stood gazing at Satan we vanished away and
landed in Ceylon.
I was sorry for that man; sorry Satan hadn't been his customary self and
killed him or made him a lunatic. It would have been a mercy. Satan
overheard the thought, and said:
"I would have done it but for his wife, who has not offended me. She is
coming to him presently from their native land, Portugal. She is well,
but has not long to live, and has been yearning to see him and persuade
him to go back with her next year. She will die without knowing he can't
leave that place."
"He won't tell her?"
"He? He will not trust that secret with any one; he will reflect that it
could be revealed in sleep, in the hearing of some Portuguese guest's
servant some time or other."
"Did none of those natives understand what you said to him?"
"None of them understood, but he will always be afraid that some of them
did. That fear will be torture to him, for he has been a harsh master to
them. In his dreams he will imagine them chopping his tree down. That
will make his days uncomfortable--I have already arranged for his
It grieved me, though not sharply, to see him take such a malicious
satisfaction in his plans for this foreigner.
"Does he believe what you told him, Satan?"
"He thought he didn't, but our vanishing helped. The tree, where there
had been no tree before--that helped. The insane and uncanny variety of
fruits--the sudden withering--all these things are helps. Let him think
as he may, reason as he may, one thing is certain, he will water the
tree. But between this and night he will begin his changed career with a
very natural precaution--for him."
"What is that?"
"He will fetch a priest to cast out the tree's devil. You are such a
humorous race--and don't suspect it."
"Will he tell the priest?"
"No. He will say a juggler from Bombay created it, and that he wants the
juggler's devil driven out of it, so that it will thrive and be fruitful
again. The priest's incantations will fail; then the Portuguese will
give up that scheme and get his watering-pot ready."
"But the priest will burn the tree. I know it; he will not allow it to
"Yes, and anywhere in Europe he would burn the man, too. But in India
the people are civilized, and these things will not happen. The man will
drive the priest away and take care of the tree."
I reflected a little, then said, "Satan, you have given him a hard life,
"Comparatively. It must not be mistaken for a holiday."
We flitted from place to place around the world as we had done before,
Satan showing me a hundred wonders, most of them reflecting in some way
the weakness and triviality of our race. He did this now every few days-
-not out of malice--I am sure of that--it only seemed to amuse and
interest him, just as a naturalist might be amused and interested by a
collection of ants.
For as much as a year Satan continued these visits, but at last he came
less often, and then for a long time he did not come at all. This always
made me lonely and melancholy. I felt that he was losing interest in our
tiny world and might at any time abandon his visits entirely. When one
day he finally came to me I was overjoyed, but only for a little while.
He had come to say good-by, he told me, and for the last time. He had
investigations and undertakings in other corners of the universe, he
said, that would keep him busy for a longer period than I could wait for
"And you are going away, and will not come back any more?"
"Yes," he said. "We have comraded long together, and it has been
pleasant--pleasant for both; but I must go now, and we shall not see each
other any more."
"In this life, Satan, but in another? We shall meet in another, surely?"
Then, all tranquilly and soberly, he made the strange answer, "There is
A subtle influence blew upon my spirit from his, bringing with it a
vague, dim, but blessed and hopeful feeling that the incredible words
might be true--even must be true.
"Have you never suspected this, Theodor?"
"No. How could I? But if it can only be true--"
"It is true."
A gust of thankfulness rose in my breast, but a doubt checked it before
it could issue in words, and I said, "But--but--we have seen that future
life--seen it in its actuality, and so--"
"It was a vision--it had no existence."
I could hardly breathe for the great hope that was struggling in me.
"A vision?--a vi--"
"Life itself is only a vision, a dream."
It was electrical. By God! I had had that very thought a thousand times
in my musings!
"Nothing exists; all is a dream. God--man--the world--the sun, the moon,
the wilderness of stars--a dream, all a dream; they have no existence.
Nothing exists save empty space--and you!"
"And you are not you--you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a
thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream--your dream,
creature of your imagination. In a moment you will have realized this,
then you will banish me from your visions and I shall dissolve into the
nothingness out of which you made me....
"I am perishing already--I am failing--I am passing away. In a little
while you will be alone in shoreless space, to wander its limitless
solitudes without friend or comrade forever--for you will remain a
thought, the only existent thought, and by your nature inextinguishable,
indestructible. But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself
and set you free. Dream other dreams, and better!
"Strange! that you should not have suspected years ago--centuries, ages,
eons, ago!--for you have existed, companionless, through all the
eternities. Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that
your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction!
Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane--like all
dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet
preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy,
yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life,
yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness
unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels
painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and
maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell--mouths
mercy and invented hell--mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied
by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other
people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them
all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the
responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it
where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine
obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him!...
"You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in a
dream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the silly
creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks--in a
word, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marks
are all present; you should have recognized them earlier.
"It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no
universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all
a dream--a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you
are but a thought--a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless
thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!"
He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he
had said was true.
Once upon a time an artist who had painted a small and very beautiful
picture placed it so that he could see it in the mirror. He said, "This
doubles the distance and softens it, and it is twice as lovely as it was
The animals out in the woods heard of this through the housecat, who was
greatly admired by them because he was so learned, and so refined and
civilized, and so polite and high-bred, and could tell them so much which
they didn't know before, and were not certain about afterward. They were
much excited about this new piece of gossip, and they asked questions, so
as to get at a full understanding of it. They asked what a picture was,
and the cat explained.
"It is a flat thing," he said; "wonderfully flat, marvelously flat,
enchantingly flat and elegant. And, oh, so beautiful!"
That excited them almost to a frenzy, and they said they would give the
world to see it. Then the bear asked:
"What is it that makes it so beautiful?"
"It is the looks of it," said the cat.
This filled them with admiration and uncertainty, and they were more
excited than ever. Then the cow asked:
"What is a mirror?"
"It is a hole in the wall," said the cat. "You look in it, and there you
see the picture, and it is so dainty and charming and ethereal and
inspiring in its unimaginable beauty that your head turns round and
round, and you almost swoon with ecstasy."
The ass had not said anything as yet; he now began to throw doubts.
He said there had never been anything as beautiful as this before, and
probably wasn't now. He said that when it took a whole basketful of
sesquipedalian adjectives to whoop up a thing of beauty, it was time for
It was easy to see that these doubts were having an effect upon the
animals, so the cat went off offended. The subject was dropped for a
couple of days, but in the meantime curiosity was taking a fresh start,
aid there was a revival of interest perceptible. Then the animals
assailed the ass for spoiling what could possibly have been a pleasure to
them, on a mere suspicion that the picture was not beautiful, without any
evidence that such was the case. The ass was not, troubled; he was calm,
and said there was one way to find out who was in the right, himself or
the cat: he would go and look in that hole, and come back and tell what
he found there. The animals felt relieved and grateful, and asked him to
go at once--which he did.
But he did not know where he ought to stand; and so, through error, he
stood between the picture and the mirror. The result was that the
picture had no chance, and didn't show up. He returned home and said:
"The cat lied. There was nothing in that hole but an ass. There wasn't
a sign of a flat thing visible. It was a handsome ass, and friendly, but
just an ass, and nothing more."
The elephant asked:
"Did you see it good and clear? Were you close to it?"
"I saw it good and clear, O Hathi, King of Beasts. I was so close that I
touched noses with it."
"This is very strange," said the elephant; "the cat was always truthful
before--as far as we could make out. Let another witness try. Go,
Baloo, look in the hole, and come and report."
So the bear went. When he came back, he said:
"Both the cat and the ass have lied; there was nothing in the hole but a
Great was the surprise and puzzlement of the animals. Each was now
anxious to make the test himself and get at the straight truth. The
elephant sent them one at a time.
First, the cow. She found nothing in the hole but a cow.
The tiger found nothing in it but a tiger.
The lion found nothing in it but a lion.
The leopard found nothing in it but a leopard.
The camel found a camel, and nothing more.
Then Hathi was wroth, and said he would have the truth, if he had to go
and fetch it himself. When he returned, he abused his whole subjectry
for liars, and was in an unappeasable fury with the moral and mental
blindness of the cat. He said that anybody but a near-sighted fool could
see that there was nothing in the hole but an elephant.
MORAL, BY THE CAT
You can find in a text whatever you bring, if you will stand between it
and the mirror of your imagination. You may not see your ears, but they
will be there.
HUNTING THE DECEITFUL TURKEY
When I was a boy my uncle and his big boys hunted with the rifle, the
youngest boy Fred and I with a shotgun--a small single-barrelled shotgun
which was properly suited to our size and strength; it was not much
heavier than a broom. We carried it turn about, half an hour at a time.
I was not able to hit anything with it, but I liked to try. Fred and I
hunted feathered small game, the others hunted deer, squirrels, wild
turkeys, and such things. My uncle and the big boys were good shots.
They killed hawks and wild geese and such like on the wing; and they
didn't wound or kill squirrels, they stunned them. When the dogs treed a
squirrel, the squirrel would scamper aloft and run out on a limb and
flatten himself along it, hoping to make himself invisible in that way--
and not quite succeeding. You could see his wee little ears sticking up.
You couldn't see his nose, but you knew where it was. Then the hunter,
despising a "rest" for his rifle, stood up and took offhand aim at the
limb and sent a bullet into it immediately under the squirrel's nose, and
down tumbled the animal, unwounded, but unconscious; the dogs gave him a
shake and he was dead. Sometimes when the distance was great and the
wind not accurately allowed for, the bullet would hit the squirrel's
head; the dogs could do as they pleased with that one--the hunter's pride
was hurt, and he wouldn't allow it to go into the gamebag.
In the first faint gray of the dawn the stately wild turkeys would be
stalking around in great flocks, and ready to be sociable and answer
invitations to come and converse with other excursionists of their kind.
The hunter concealed himself and imitated the turkey-call by sucking the
air through the leg-bone of a turkey which had previously answered a call
like that and lived only just long enough to regret it. There is nothing
that furnishes a perfect turkey-call except that bone. Another of
Nature's treacheries, you see. She is full of them; half the time she
doesn't know which she likes best--to betray her chid or protect it.
In the case of the turkey she is badly mixed: she gives it a bone to be
used in getting it into trouble, and she also furnishes it with a trick
for getting itself out of the trouble again. When a mamma-turkey answers
an invitation and finds she has made a mistake in accepting it, she does
as the mamma-partridge does--remembers a previous engagement--and goes
limping and scrambling away, pretending to be very lame; and at the same
time she is saying to her not-visible children, "Lie low, keep still,
don't expose yourselves; I shall be back as soon as I have beguiled this
shabby swindler out of the country."
When a person is ignorant and confiding, this immoral device can have
tiresome results. I followed an ostensibly lame turkey over a
considerable part of the United States one morning, because I believed in
her and could not think she would deceive a mere boy, and one who was
trusting her and considering her honest. I had the single-barrelled
shotgun, but my idea was to catch her alive. I often got within rushing
distance of her, and then made my rush; but always, just as I made my
final plunge and put my hand down where her back had been, it wasn't
there; it was only two or three inches from there and I brushed the tail-
feathers as I landed on my stomach--a very close call, but still not
quite close enough; that is, not close enough for success, but just close
enough to convince me that I could do it next time. She always waited
for me, a little piece away, and let on to be resting and greatly
fatigued; which was a lie, but I believed it, for I still thought her
honest long after I ought to have begun to doubt her, suspecting that
this was no way for a high-minded bird to be acting. I followed, and
followed, and followed, making my periodical rushes, and getting up and
brushing the dust off, and resuming the voyage with patient confidence;
indeed, with a confidence which grew, for I could see by the change of
climate and vegetation that we were getting up into the high latitudes,
and as she always looked a little tireder and a little more discouraged
after each rush, I judged that I was safe to win, in the end, the
competition being purely a matter of staying power and the advantage
lying with me from the start because she was lame.
Along in the afternoon I began to feel fatigued myself. Neither of us
had had any rest since we first started on the excursion, which was
upwards of ten hours before, though latterly we had paused awhile after
rushes, I letting on to be thinking about something else; but neither of
us sincere, and both of us waiting for the other to call game but in no
real hurry about it, for indeed those little evanescent snatches of rest
were very grateful to the feelings of us both; it would naturally be so,
skirmishing along like that ever since dawn and not a bite in the
meantime; at least for me, though sometimes as she lay on her side
fanning herself with a wing and praying for strength to get out of this
difficulty a grasshopper happened along whose time had come, and that was
well for her, and fortunate, but I had nothing--nothing the whole day.
More than once, after I was very tired, I gave up taking her alive, and
was going to shoot her, but I never did it, although it was my right, for
I did not believe I could hit her; and besides, she always stopped and
posed, when I raised the gun, and this made me suspicious that she knew
about me and my marksmanship, and so I did not care to expose myself to
I did not get her, at all. When she got tired of the game at last, she
rose from almost under my hand and flew aloft with the rush and whir of a
shell and lit on the highest limb of a great tree and sat down and
crossed her legs and smiled down at me, and seemed gratified to see me so
I was ashamed, and also lost; and it was while wandering the woods
hunting for myself that I found a deserted log cabin and had one of the
best meals there that in my life-days I have eaten. The weed-grown
garden was full of ripe tomatoes, and I ate them ravenously, though I had
never liked them before. Not more than two or three times since have I
tasted anything that was so delicious as those tomatoes. I surfeited
myself with them, and did not taste another one until I was in middle
life. I can eat them now, but I do not like the look of them. I suppose
we have all experienced a surfeit at one time or another. Once, in
stress of circumstances, I ate part of a barrel of sardines, there being
nothing else at hand, but since then I have always been able to get along
THE McWILLIAMSES AND THE BURGLAR ALARM
The conversation drifted smoothly and pleasantly along from weather to
crops, from crops to literature, from literature to scandal, from scandal
to religion; then took a random jump, and landed on the subject of
burglar alarms. And now for the first time Mr. McWilliams showed
feeling. Whenever I perceive this sign on this man's dial, I comprehend
it, and lapse into silence, and give him opportunity to unload his heart.
Said he, with but ill-controlled emotion:
"I do not go one single cent on burglar alarms, Mr. Twain--not a single
cent--and I will tell you why. When we were finishing our house, we
found we had a little cash left over, on account of the plumber not
knowing it. I was for enlightening the heathen with it, for I was always
unaccountably down on the heathen somehow; but Mrs. McWilliams said no,
let's have a burglar alarm. I agreed to this compromise. I will explain
that whenever I want a thing, and Mrs. McWilliams wants another thing,
and we decide upon the thing that Mrs. McWilliams wants--as we always do
--she calls that a compromise. Very well: the man came up from New York
and put in the alarm, and charged three hundred and twenty-five dollars
for it, and said we could sleep without uneasiness now. So we did for
awhile--say a month. Then one night we smelled smoke, and I was advised
to get up and see what the matter was. I lit a candle, and started
toward the stairs, and met a burglar coming out of a room with a basket
of tinware, which he had mistaken for solid silver in the dark. He was
smoking a pipe. I said, 'My friend, we do not allow smoking in this
room.' He said he was a stranger, and could not be expected to know the
rules of the house: said he had been in many houses just as good as this
one, and it had never been objected to before. He added that as far as
his experience went, such rules had never been considered to apply to
"I said: 'Smoke along, then, if it is the custom, though I think that the