The Complete Works of Mark Twain


 
 
Mark Twain > Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven > Chapter I

Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven

Chapter I



Well, when I had been dead about thirty years I begun to get a
little anxious. Mind you, had been whizzing through space all that
time, like a comet. LIKE a comet! Why, Peters, I laid over the
lot of them! Of course there warn't any of them going my way, as a
steady thing, you know, because they travel in a long circle like
the loop of a lasso, whereas I was pointed as straight as a dart
for the Hereafter; but I happened on one every now and then that
was going my way for an hour or so, and then we had a bit of a
brush together. But it was generally pretty one-sided, because I
sailed by them the same as if they were standing still. An
ordinary comet don't make more than about 200,000 miles a minute.
Of course when I came across one of that sort - like Encke's and
Halley's comets, for instance - it warn't anything but just a flash
and a vanish, you see. You couldn't rightly call it a race. It
was as if the comet was a gravel-train and I was a telegraph
despatch. But after I got outside of our astronomical system, I
used to flush a comet occasionally that was something LIKE. WE
haven't got any such comets - ours don't begin. One night I was
swinging along at a good round gait, everything taut and trim, and
the wind in my favor - I judged I was going about a million miles a
minute - it might have been more, it couldn't have been less - when
I flushed a most uncommonly big one about three points off my
starboard bow. By his stern lights I judged he was bearing about
northeast-and-by-north-half-east. Well, it was so near my course
that I wouldn't throw away the chance; so I fell off a point,
steadied my helm, and went for him. You should have heard me whiz,
and seen the electric fur fly! In about a minute and a half I was
fringed out with an electrical nimbus that flamed around for miles
and miles and lit up all space like broad day. The comet was
burning blue in the distance, like a sickly torch, when I first
sighted him, but he begun to grow bigger and bigger as I crept up
on him. I slipped up on him so fast that when I had gone about
150,000,000 miles I was close enough to be swallowed up in the
phosphorescent glory of his wake, and I couldn't see anything for
the glare. Thinks I, it won't do to run into him, so I shunted to
one side and tore along. By and by I closed up abreast of his
tail. Do you know what it was like? It was like a gnat closing up
on the continent of America. I forged along. By and by I had
sailed along his coast for a little upwards of a hundred and fifty
million miles, and then I could see by the shape of him that I
hadn't even got up to his waistband yet. Why, Peters, WE don't
know anything about comets, down here. If you want to see comets
that ARE comets, you've got to go outside of our solar system -
where there's room for them, you understand. My friend, I've seen
comets out there that couldn't even lay down inside the ORBITS of
our noblest comets without their tails hanging over.

Well, I boomed along another hundred and fifty million miles, and
got up abreast his shoulder, as you may say. I was feeling pretty
fine, I tell you; but just then I noticed the officer of the deck
come to the side and hoist his glass in my direction. Straight off
I heard him sing out - "Below there, ahoy! Shake her up, shake her
up! Heave on a hundred million billion tons of brimstone!"

"Ay-ay, sir!"

"Pipe the stabboard watch! All hands on deck!"

"Ay-ay, sir!"

"Send two hundred thousand million men aloft to shake out royals
and sky-scrapers!"

"Ay-ay, sir!"

"Hand the stuns'ls! Hang out every rag you've got! Clothe her
from stem to rudder-post!"

"Ay-ay, sir!"

In about a second I begun to see I'd woke up a pretty ugly
customer, Peters. In less than ten seconds that comet was just a
blazing cloud of red-hot canvas. It was piled up into the heavens
clean out of sight - the old thing seemed to swell out and occupy
all space; the sulphur smoke from the furnaces - oh, well, nobody
can describe the way it rolled and tumbled up into the skies, and
nobody can half describe the way it smelt. Neither can anybody
begin to describe the way that monstrous craft begun to crash
along. And such another powwow - thousands of bo's'n's whistles
screaming at once, and a crew like the populations of a hundred
thousand worlds like ours all swearing at once. Well, I never
heard the like of it before.

We roared and thundered along side by side, both doing our level
best, because I'd never struck a comet before that could lay over
me, and so I was bound to beat this one or break something. I
judged I had some reputation in space, and I calculated to keep it.
I noticed I wasn't gaining as fast, now, as I was before, but still
I was gaining. There was a power of excitement on board the comet.
Upwards of a hundred billion passengers swarmed up from below and
rushed to the side and begun to bet on the race. Of course this
careened her and damaged her speed. My, but wasn't the mate mad!
He jumped at that crowd, with his trumpet in his hand, and sung out
-

"Amidships! amidships, you -! (1) or I'll brain the last idiot of
you!"

Well, sir, I gained and gained, little by little, till at last I
went skimming sweetly by the magnificent old conflagration's nose.
By this time the captain of the comet had been rousted out, and he
stood there in the red glare for'ard, by the mate, in his shirt-
sleeves and slippers, his hair all rats' nests and one suspender
hanging, and how sick those two men did look! I just simply
couldn't help putting my thumb to my nose as I glided away and
singing out:

"Ta-ta! ta-ta! Any word to send to your family?"

Peters, it was a mistake. Yes, sir, I've often regretted that - it
was a mistake. You see, the captain had given up the race, but
that remark was too tedious for him - he couldn't stand it. He
turned to the mate, and says he -

"Have we got brimstone enough of our own to make the trip?"

"Yes, sir."

"Sure?"

"Yes, sir - more than enough."

"How much have we got in cargo for Satan?"

"Eighteen hundred thousand billion quintillions of kazarks."

"Very well, then, let his boarders freeze till the next comet
comes. Lighten ship! Lively, now, lively, men! Heave the whole
cargo overboard!"

Peters, look me in the eye, and be calm. I found out, over there,
that a kazark is exactly the bulk of a HUNDRED AND SIXTY-NINE
WORLDS LIKE OURS! They hove all that load overboard. When it fell
it wiped out a considerable raft of stars just as clean as if
they'd been candles and somebody blowed them out. As for the race,
that was at an end. The minute she was lightened the comet swung
along by me the same as if I was anchored. The captain stood on
the stern, by the after-davits, and put his thumb to his nose and
sung out -

"Ta-ta! ta-ta! Maybe YOU'VE got some message to send your friends
in the Everlasting Tropics!"

Then he hove up his other suspender and started for'ard, and inside
of three-quarters of an hour his craft was only a pale torch again
in the distance. Yes, it was a mistake, Peters - that remark of
mine. I don't reckon I'll ever get over being sorry about it. I'd
'a' beat the bully of the firmament if I'd kept my mouth shut.


But I've wandered a little off the track of my tale; I'll get back
on my course again. Now you see what kind of speed I was making.
So, as I said, when I had been tearing along this way about thirty
years I begun to get uneasy. Oh, it was pleasant enough, with a
good deal to find out, but then it was kind of lonesome, you know.
Besides, I wanted to get somewhere. I hadn't shipped with the idea
of cruising forever. First off, I liked the delay, because I
judged I was going to fetch up in pretty warm quarters when I got
through; but towards the last I begun to feel that I'd rather go to
- well, most any place, so as to finish up the uncertainty.

Well, one night - it was always night, except when I was rushing by
some star that was occupying the whole universe with its fire and
its glare - light enough then, of course, but I necessarily left it
behind in a minute or two and plunged into a solid week of darkness
again. The stars ain't so close together as they look to be.
Where was I? Oh yes; one night I was sailing along, when I
discovered a tremendous long row of blinking lights away on the
horizon ahead. As I approached, they begun to tower and swell and
look like mighty furnaces. Says I to myself -

"By George, I've arrived at last - and at the wrong place, just as
I expected!"

Then I fainted. I don't know how long I was insensible, but it
must have been a good while, for, when I came to, the darkness was
all gone and there was the loveliest sunshine and the balmiest,
fragrantest air in its place. And there was such a marvellous
world spread out before me - such a glowing, beautiful, bewitching
country. The things I took for furnaces were gates, miles high,
made all of flashing jewels, and they pierced a wall of solid gold
that you couldn't see the top of, nor yet the end of, in either
direction. I was pointed straight for one of these gates, and a-
coming like a house afire. Now I noticed that the skies were black
with millions of people, pointed for those gates. What a roar they
made, rushing through the air! The ground was as thick as ants
with people, too - billions of them, I judge.

I lit. I drifted up to a gate with a swarm of people, and when it
was my turn the head clerk says, in a business-like way -

"Well, quick! Where are you from?"

"San Francisco," says I.

"San Fran - WHAT?" says he.

"San Francisco."

He scratched his head and looked puzzled, then he says -

"Is it a planet?"

By George, Peters, think of it! "PLANET?" says I; "it's a city.
And moreover, it's one of the biggest and finest and - "

"There, there!" says he, "no time here for conversation. We don't
deal in cities here. Where are you from in a GENERAL way?"

"Oh," I says, "I beg your pardon. Put me down for California."

I had him AGAIN, Peters! He puzzled a second, then he says, sharp
and irritable -

"I don't know any such planet - is it a constellation?"

"Oh, my goodness!" says I. "Constellation, says you? No - it's a
State."

"Man, we don't deal in States here. WILL you tell me where you are
from IN GENERAL - AT LARGE, don't you understand?"

"Oh, now I get your idea," I says. "I'm from America, - the United
States of America."

Peters, do you know I had him AGAIN? If I hadn't I'm a clam! His
face was as blank as a target after a militia shooting-match. He
turned to an under clerk and says -

"Where is America? WHAT is America?"

The under clerk answered up prompt and says -

"There ain't any such orb."

"ORB?" says I. "Why, what are you talking about, young man? It
ain't an orb; it's a country; it's a continent. Columbus
discovered it; I reckon likely you've heard of HIM, anyway.
America - why, sir, America - "

"Silence!" says the head clerk. "Once for all, where - are - you -
FROM?"

"Well," says I, "I don't know anything more to say - unless I lump
things, and just say I'm from the world."

"Ah," says he, brightening up, "now that's something like! WHAT
world?"

Peters, he had ME, that time. I looked at him, puzzled, he looked
at me, worried. Then he burst out -

"Come, come, what world?"

Says I, "Why, THE world, of course."

"THE world!" he says. "H'm! there's billions of them! . . . Next!"

That meant for me to stand aside. I done so, and a sky-blue man
with seven heads and only one leg hopped into my place. I took a
walk. It just occurred to me, then, that all the myriads I had
seen swarming to that gate, up to this time, were just like that
creature. I tried to run across somebody I was acquainted with,
but they were out of acquaintances of mine just then. So I thought
the thing all over and finally sidled back there pretty meek and
feeling rather stumped, as you may say.

"Well?" said the head clerk.

"Well, sir," I says, pretty humble, "I don't seem to make out which
world it is I'm from. But you may know it from this - it's the one
the Saviour saved."

He bent his head at the Name. Then he says, gently -

"The worlds He has saved are like to the gates of heaven in number
- none can count them. What astronomical system is your world in?
- perhaps that may assist."

"It's the one that has the sun in it - and the moon - and Mars" -
he shook his head at each name - hadn't ever heard of them, you see
- "and Neptune - and Uranus - and Jupiter - "

"Hold on!" says he - "hold on a minute! Jupiter . . . Jupiter . .
. Seems to me we had a man from there eight or nine hundred years
ago - but people from that system very seldom enter by this gate."
All of a sudden he begun to look me so straight in the eye that I
thought he was going to bore through me. Then he says, very
deliberate, "Did you come STRAIGHT HERE from your system?"

"Yes, sir," I says - but I blushed the least little bit in the
world when I said it.

He looked at me very stern, and says -

"That is not true; and this is not the place for prevarication.
You wandered from your course. How did that happen?"

Says I, blushing again -

"I'm sorry, and I take back what I said, and confess. I raced a
little with a comet one day - only just the least little bit - only
the tiniest lit - "

"So - so," says he - and without any sugar in his voice to speak
of.

I went on, and says -

"But I only fell off just a bare point, and I went right back on my
course again the minute the race was over."

"No matter - that divergence has made all this trouble. It has
brought you to a gate that is billions of leagues from the right
one. If you had gone to your own gate they would have known all
about your world at once and there would have been no delay. But
we will try to accommodate you." He turned to an under clerk and
says -

"What system is Jupiter in?"

"I don't remember, sir, but I think there is such a planet in one
of the little new systems away out in one of the thinly worlded
corners of the universe. I will see."

He got a balloon and sailed up and up and up, in front of a map
that was as big as Rhode Island. He went on up till he was out of
sight, and by and by he came down and got something to eat and went
up again. To cut a long story short, he kept on doing this for a
day or two, and finally he came down and said he thought he had
found that solar system, but it might be fly-specks. So he got a
microscope and went back. It turned out better than he feared. He
had rousted out our system, sure enough. He got me to describe our
planet and its distance from the sun, and then he says to his chief
-

"Oh, I know the one he means, now, sir. It is on the map. It is
called the Wart."

Says I to myself, "Young man, it wouldn't be wholesome for you to
go down THERE and call it the Wart."

Well, they let me in, then, and told me I was safe forever and
wouldn't have any more trouble.

Then they turned from me and went on with their work, the same as
if they considered my case all complete and shipshape. I was a
good deal surprised at this, but I was diffident about speaking up
and reminding them. I did so hate to do it, you know; it seemed a
pity to bother them, they had so much on their hands. Twice I
thought I would give up and let the thing go; so twice I started to
leave, but immediately I thought what a figure I should cut
stepping out amongst the redeemed in such a rig, and that made me
hang back and come to anchor again. People got to eying me -
clerks, you know - wondering why I didn't get under way. I
couldn't stand this long - it was too uncomfortable. So at last I
plucked up courage and tipped the head clerk a signal. He says -

"What! you here yet? What's wanting?"

Says I, in a low voice and very confidential, making a trumpet with
my hands at his ear -

"I beg pardon, and you mustn't mind my reminding you, and seeming
to meddle, but hain't you forgot something?"

He studied a second, and says -

"Forgot something? . . . No, not that I know of."

"Think," says I.

He thought. Then he says -

"No, I can't seem to have forgot anything. What is it?"

"Look at me," says I, "look me all over."

He done it.

"Well?" says he.

"Well," says I, "you don't notice anything? If I branched out
amongst the elect looking like this, wouldn't I attract
considerable attention? - wouldn't I be a little conspicuous?"

"Well," he says, "I don't see anything the matter. What do you
lack?"

"Lack! Why, I lack my harp, and my wreath, and my halo, and my
hymn-book, and my palm branch - I lack everything that a body
naturally requires up here, my friend."

Puzzled? Peters, he was the worst puzzled man you ever saw.
Finally he says -

"Well, you seem to be a curiosity every way a body takes you. I
never heard of these things before."

I looked at the man awhile in solid astonishment; then I says -

"Now, I hope you don't take it as an offence, for I don't mean any,
but really, for a man that has been in the Kingdom as long as I
reckon you have, you do seem to know powerful little about its
customs."

"Its customs!" says he. "Heaven is a large place, good friend.
Large empires have many and diverse customs. Even small dominions
have, as you doubtless know by what you have seen of the matter on
a small scale in the Wart. How can you imagine I could ever learn
the varied customs of the countless kingdoms of heaven? It makes
my head ache to think of it. I know the customs that prevail in
those portions inhabited by peoples that are appointed to enter by
my own gate - and hark ye, that is quite enough knowledge for one
individual to try to pack into his head in the thirty-seven
millions of years I have devoted night and day to that study. But
the idea of learning the customs of the whole appalling expanse of
heaven - O man, how insanely you talk! Now I don't doubt that this
odd costume you talk about is the fashion in that district of
heaven you belong to, but you won't be conspicuous in this section
without it."

I felt all right, if that was the case, so I bade him good-day and
left. All day I walked towards the far end of a prodigious hall of
the office, hoping to come out into heaven any moment, but it was a
mistake. That hall was built on the general heavenly plan - it
naturally couldn't be small. At last I got so tired I couldn't go
any farther; so I sat down to rest, and begun to tackle the
queerest sort of strangers and ask for information, but I didn't
get any; they couldn't understand my language, and I could not
understand theirs. I got dreadfully lonesome. I was so down-
hearted and homesick I wished a hundred times I never had died. I
turned back, of course. About noon next day, I got back at last
and was on hand at the booking-office once more. Says I to the
head clerk -

"I begin to see that a man's got to be in his own Heaven to be
happy."

"Perfectly correct," says he. "Did you imagine the same heaven
would suit all sorts of men?"

"Well, I had that idea - but I see the foolishness of it. Which
way am I to go to get to my district?"

He called the under clerk that had examined the map, and he gave me
general directions. I thanked him and started; but he says -

"Wait a minute; it is millions of leagues from here. Go outside
and stand on that red wishing-carpet; shut your eyes, hold your
breath, and wish yourself there."

"I'm much obliged," says I; "why didn't you dart me through when I
first arrived?"

"We have a good deal to think of here; it was your place to think
of it and ask for it. Good-by; we probably sha'n't see you in this
region for a thousand centuries or so."

"In that case, O REVOOR," says I.

I hopped onto the carpet and held my breath and shut my eyes and
wished I was in the booking-office of my own section. The very
next instant a voice I knew sung out in a business kind of a way -

"A harp and a hymn-book, pair of wings and a halo, size 13, for
Cap'n Eli Stormfield, of San Francisco! - make him out a clean bill
of health, and let him in."

I opened my eyes. Sure enough, it was a Pi Ute Injun I used to
know in Tulare County; mighty good fellow - I remembered being at
his funeral, which consisted of him being burnt and the other
Injuns gauming their faces with his ashes and howling like
wildcats. He was powerful glad to see me, and you may make up your
mind I was just as glad to see him, and feel that I was in the
right kind of a heaven at last.

Just as far as your eye could reach, there was swarms of clerks,
running and bustling around, tricking out thousands of Yanks and
Mexicans and English and Arabs, and all sorts of people in their
new outfits; and when they gave me my kit and I put on my halo and
took a look in the glass, I could have jumped over a house for joy,
I was so happy. "Now THIS is something like!" says I. "Now," says
I, "I'm all right - show me a cloud."

Inside of fifteen minutes I was a mile on my way towards the cloud-
banks and about a million people along with me. Most of us tried
to fly, but some got crippled and nobody made a success of it. So
we concluded to walk, for the present, till we had had some wing
practice.

We begun to meet swarms of folks who were coming back. Some had
harps and nothing else; some had hymn-books and nothing else; some
had nothing at all; all of them looked meek and uncomfortable; one
young fellow hadn't anything left but his halo, and he was carrying
that in his hand; all of a sudden he offered it to me and says -

"Will you hold it for me a minute?"

Then he disappeared in the crowd. I went on. A woman asked me to
hold her palm branch, and then SHE disappeared. A girl got me to
hold her harp for her, and by George, SHE disappeared; and so on
and so on, till I was about loaded down to the guards. Then comes
a smiling old gentleman and asked me to hold HIS things. I swabbed
off the perspiration and says, pretty tart -

"I'll have to get you to excuse me, my friend, - I ain't no hat-
rack."

About this time I begun to run across piles of those traps, lying
in the road. I just quietly dumped my extra cargo along with them.
I looked around, and, Peters, that whole nation that was following
me were loaded down the same as I'd been. The return crowd had got
them to hold their things a minute, you see. They all dumped their
loads, too, and we went on.

When I found myself perched on a cloud, with a million other
people, I never felt so good in my life. Says I, "Now this is
according to the promises; I've been having my doubts, but now I am
in heaven, sure enough." I gave my palm branch a wave or two, for
luck, and then I tautened up my harp-strings and struck in. Well,
Peters, you can't imagine anything like the row we made. It was
grand to listen to, and made a body thrill all over, but there was
considerable many tunes going on at once, and that was a drawback
to the harmony, you understand; and then there was a lot of Injun
tribes, and they kept up such another war-whooping that they kind
of took the tuck out of the music. By and by I quit performing,
and judged I'd take a rest. There was quite a nice mild old
gentleman sitting next me, and I noticed he didn't take a hand; I
encouraged him, but he said he was naturally bashful, and was
afraid to try before so many people. By and by the old gentleman
said he never could seem to enjoy music somehow. The fact was, I
was beginning to feel the same way; but I didn't say anything. Him
and I had a considerable long silence, then, but of course it
warn't noticeable in that place. After about sixteen or seventeen
hours, during which I played and sung a little, now and then -
always the same tune, because I didn't know any other - I laid down
my harp and begun to fan myself with my palm branch. Then we both
got to sighing pretty regular. Finally, says he -

"Don't you know any tune but the one you've been pegging at all
day?"

"Not another blessed one," says I.

"Don't you reckon you could learn another one?" says he.

"Never," says I; "I've tried to, but I couldn't manage it."

"It's a long time to hang to the one - eternity, you know."

"Don't break my heart," says I; "I'm getting low-spirited enough
already."

After another long silence, says he -

"Are you glad to be here?"

Says I, "Old man, I'll be frank with you. This AIN'T just as near
my idea of bliss as I thought it was going to be, when I used to go
to church."

Says he, "What do you say to knocking off and calling it half a
day?"

"That's me," says I. "I never wanted to get off watch so bad in my
life."

So we started. Millions were coming to the cloud-bank all the
time, happy and hosannahing; millions were leaving it all the time,
looking mighty quiet, I tell you. We laid for the new-comers, and
pretty soon I'd got them to hold all my things a minute, and then I
was a free man again and most outrageously happy. Just then I ran
across old Sam Bartlett, who had been dead a long time, and stopped
to have a talk with him. Says I -

"Now tell me - is this to go on forever? Ain't there anything else
for a change?"

Says he -

"I'll set you right on that point very quick. People take the
figurative language of the Bible and the allegories for literal,
and the first thing they ask for when they get here is a halo and a
harp, and so on. Nothing that's harmless and reasonable is refused
a body here, if he asks it in the right spirit. So they are
outfitted with these things without a word. They go and sing and
play just about one day, and that's the last you'll ever see them
in the choir. They don't need anybody to tell them that that sort
of thing wouldn't make a heaven - at least not a heaven that a sane
man could stand a week and remain sane. That cloud-bank is placed
where the noise can't disturb the old inhabitants, and so there
ain't any harm in letting everybody get up there and cure himself
as soon as he comes.

"Now you just remember this - heaven is as blissful and lovely as
it can be; but it's just the busiest place you ever heard of.
There ain't any idle people here after the first day. Singing
hymns and waving palm branches through all eternity is pretty when
you hear about it in the pulpit, but it's as poor a way to put in
valuable time as a body could contrive. It would just make a
heaven of warbling ignoramuses, don't you see? Eternal Rest sounds
comforting in the pulpit, too. Well, you try it once, and see how
heavy time will hang on your hands. Why, Stormfield, a man like
you, that had been active and stirring all his life, would go mad
in six months in a heaven where he hadn't anything to do. Heaven
is the very last place to come to REST in, - and don't you be
afraid to bet on that!"

Says I -

"Sam, I'm as glad to hear it as I thought I'd be sorry. I'm glad I
come, now."

Says he -

"Cap'n, ain't you pretty physically tired?"

Says I -

"Sam, it ain't any name for it! I'm dog-tired."

"Just so - just so. You've earned a good sleep, and you'll get it.
You've earned a good appetite, and you'll enjoy your dinner. It's
the same here as it is on earth - you've got to earn a thing,
square and honest, before you enjoy it. You can't enjoy first and
earn afterwards. But there's this difference, here: you can
choose your own occupation, and all the powers of heaven will be
put forth to help you make a success of it, if you do your level
best. The shoe-maker on earth that had the soul of a poet in him
won't have to make shoes here."

"Now that's all reasonable and right," says I. "Plenty of work,
and the kind you hanker after; no more pain, no more suffering - "

"Oh, hold on; there's plenty of pain here - but it don't kill.
There's plenty of suffering here, but it don't last. You see,
happiness ain't a THING IN ITSELF - it's only a CONTRAST with
something that ain't pleasant. That's all it is. There ain't a
thing you can mention that is happiness in its own self - it's only
so by contrast with the other thing. And so, as soon as the
novelty is over and the force of the contrast dulled, it ain't
happiness any longer, and you have to get something fresh. Well,
there's plenty of pain and suffering in heaven - consequently
there's plenty of contrasts, and just no end of happiness."

Says I, "It's the sensiblest heaven I've heard of yet, Sam, though
it's about as different from the one I was brought up on as a live
princess is different from her own wax figger."


Along in the first months I knocked around about the Kingdom,
making friends and looking at the country, and finally settled down
in a pretty likely region, to have a rest before taking another
start. I went on making acquaintances and gathering up
information. I had a good deal of talk with an old bald-headed
angel by the name of Sandy McWilliams. He was from somewhere in
New Jersey. I went about with him, considerable. We used to lay
around, warm afternoons, in the shade of a rock, on some meadow-
ground that was pretty high and out of the marshy slush of his
cranberry-farm, and there we used to talk about all kinds of
things, and smoke pipes. One day, says I -

"About how old might you be, Sandy?"

"Seventy-two."

"I judged so. How long you been in heaven?"

"Twenty-seven years, come Christmas."

"How old was you when you come up?"

"Why, seventy-two, of course."

"You can't mean it!"

"Why can't I mean it?"

"Because, if you was seventy-two then, you are naturally ninety-
nine now."

"No, but I ain't. I stay the same age I was when I come."

"Well," says I, "come to think, there's something just here that I
want to ask about. Down below, I always had an idea that in heaven
we would all be young, and bright, and spry."

"Well, you can be young if you want to. You've only got to wish."

"Well, then, why didn't you wish?"

"I did. They all do. You'll try it, some day, like enough; but
you'll get tired of the change pretty soon."

"Why?"

"Well, I'll tell you. Now you've always been a sailor; did you
ever try some other business?"

"Yes, I tried keeping grocery, once, up in the mines; but I
couldn't stand it; it was too dull - no stir, no storm, no life
about it; it was like being part dead and part alive, both at the
same time. I wanted to be one thing or t'other. I shut up shop
pretty quick and went to sea."

"That's it. Grocery people like it, but you couldn't. You see you
wasn't used to it. Well, I wasn't used to being young, and I
couldn't seem to take any interest in it. I was strong, and
handsome, and had curly hair, - yes, and wings, too! - gay wings
like a butterfly. I went to picnics and dances and parties with
the fellows, and tried to carry on and talk nonsense with the
girls, but it wasn't any use; I couldn't take to it - fact is, it
was an awful bore. What I wanted was early to bed and early to
rise, and something to DO; and when my work was done, I wanted to
sit quiet, and smoke and think - not tear around with a parcel of
giddy young kids. You can't think what I suffered whilst I was
young."

"How long was you young?"

"Only two weeks. That was plenty for me. Laws, I was so lonesome!
You see, I was full of the knowledge and experience of seventy-two
years; the deepest subject those young folks could strike was only
A-B-C to me. And to hear them argue - oh, my! it would have been
funny, if it hadn't been so pitiful. Well, I was so hungry for the
ways and the sober talk I was used to, that I tried to ring in with
the old people, but they wouldn't have it. They considered me a
conceited young upstart, and gave me the cold shoulder. Two weeks
was a-plenty for me. I was glad to get back my bald head again,
and my pipe, and my old drowsy reflections in the shade of a rock
or a tree."

"Well," says I, "do you mean to say you're going to stand still at
seventy-two, forever?"

"I don't know, and I ain't particular. But I ain't going to drop
back to twenty-five any more - I know that, mighty well. I know a
sight more than I did twenty-seven years ago, and I enjoy learning,
all the time, but I don't seem to get any older. That is, bodily -
my mind gets older, and stronger, and better seasoned, and more
satisfactory."

Says I, "If a man comes here at ninety, don't he ever set himself
back?"

"Of course he does. He sets himself back to fourteen; tries it a
couple of hours, and feels like a fool; sets himself forward to
twenty; it ain't much improvement; tries thirty, fifty, eighty, and
finally ninety - finds he is more at home and comfortable at the
same old figure he is used to than any other way. Or, if his mind
begun to fail him on earth at eighty, that's where he finally
sticks up here. He sticks at the place where his mind was last at
its best, for there's where his enjoyment is best, and his ways
most set and established."

"Does a chap of twenty-five stay always twenty-five, and look it?"

"If he is a fool, yes. But if he is bright, and ambitious and
industrious, the knowledge he gains and the experiences he has,
change his ways and thoughts and likings, and make him find his
best pleasure in the company of people above that age; so he allows
his body to take on that look of as many added years as he needs to
make him comfortable and proper in that sort of society; he lets
his body go on taking the look of age, according as he progresses,
and by and by he will be bald and wrinkled outside, and wise and
deep within."

"Babies the same?"

"Babies the same. Laws, what asses we used to be, on earth, about
these things! We said we'd be always young in heaven. We didn't
say HOW young - we didn't think of that, perhaps - that is, we
didn't all think alike, anyway. When I was a boy of seven, I
suppose I thought we'd all be twelve, in heaven; when I was twelve,
I suppose I thought we'd all be eighteen or twenty in heaven; when
I was forty, I begun to go back; I remember I hoped we'd all be
about THIRTY years old in heaven. Neither a man nor a boy ever
thinks the age he HAS is exactly the best one - he puts the right
age a few years older or a few years younger than he is. Then he
makes that ideal age the general age of the heavenly people. And
he expects everybody TO STICK at that age - stand stock-still - and
expects them to enjoy it! - Now just think of the idea of standing
still in heaven! Think of a heaven made up entirely of hoop-
rolling, marble-playing cubs of seven years! - or of awkward,
diffident, sentimental immaturities of nineteen! - or of vigorous
people of thirty, healthy-minded, brimming with ambition, but
chained hand and foot to that one age and its limitations like so
many helpless galley-slaves! Think of the dull sameness of a
society made up of people all of one age and one set of looks,
habits, tastes and feelings. Think how superior to it earth would
be, with its variety of types and faces and ages, and the
enlivening attrition of the myriad interests that come into
pleasant collision in such a variegated society."

"Look here," says I, "do you know what you're doing?"

"Well, what am I doing?"

"You are making heaven pretty comfortable in one way, but you are
playing the mischief with it in another."

"How d'you mean?"

"Well," I says, "take a young mother that's lost her child, and - "

"Sh!" he says. "Look!"

It was a woman. Middle-aged, and had grizzled hair. She was
walking slow, and her head was bent down, and her wings hanging
limp and droopy; and she looked ever so tired, and was crying, poor
thing! She passed along by, with her head down, that way, and the
tears running down her face, and didn't see us. Then Sandy said,
low and gentle, and full of pity:

"SHE'S hunting for her child! No, FOUND it, I reckon. Lord, how
she's changed! But I recognized her in a minute, though it's
twenty-seven years since I saw her. A young mother she was, about
twenty two or four, or along there; and blooming and lovely and
sweet? oh, just a flower! And all her heart and all her soul was
wrapped up in her child, her little girl, two years old. And it
died, and she went wild with grief, just wild! Well, the only
comfort she had was that she'd see her child again, in heaven -
'never more to part,' she said, and kept on saying it over and
over, 'never more to part.' And the words made her happy; yes,
they did; they made her joyful, and when I was dying, twenty-seven
years ago, she told me to find her child the first thing, and say
she was coming - 'soon, soon, VERY soon, she hoped and believed!'"

"Why, it's pitiful, Sandy."

He didn't say anything for a while, but sat looking at the ground,
thinking. Then he says, kind of mournful:

"And now she's come!"

"Well? Go on."

"Stormfield, maybe she hasn't found the child, but I think she has.
Looks so to me. I've seen cases before. You see, she's kept that
child in her head just the same as it was when she jounced it in
her arms a little chubby thing. But here it didn't elect to STAY a
child. No, it elected to grow up, which it did. And in these
twenty-seven years it has learned all the deep scientific learning
there is to learn, and is studying and studying and learning and
learning more and more, all the time, and don't give a damn for
anything BUT learning; just learning, and discussing gigantic
problems with people like herself."

"Well?"

"Stormfield, don't you see? Her mother knows CRANBERRIES, and how
to tend them, and pick them, and put them up, and market them; and
not another blamed thing! Her and her daughter can't be any more
company for each other NOW than mud turtle and bird o' paradise.
Poor thing, she was looking for a baby to jounce; I think she's
struck a disapp'intment."

"Sandy, what will they do - stay unhappy forever in heaven?"

"No, they'll come together and get adjusted by and by. But not
this year, and not next. By and by."


Forward >












Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors


Mark Twain. Copyright 2008, mtwain.com
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.