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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter LI

Roughing It

Chapter LI


Vice flourished luxuriantly during the hey-day of our "flush times." The
saloons were overburdened with custom; so were the police courts, the
gambling dens, the brothels and the jails--unfailing signs of high
prosperity in a mining region--in any region for that matter. Is it not
so? A crowded police court docket is the surest of all signs that trade
is brisk and money plenty. Still, there is one other sign; it comes
last, but when it does come it establishes beyond cavil that the "flush
times" are at the flood. This is the birth of the "literary" paper.
The Weekly Occidental, "devoted to literature," made its appearance in
Virginia. All the literary people were engaged to write for it. Mr. F.
was to edit it. He was a felicitous skirmisher with a pen, and a man who
could say happy things in a crisp, neat way. Once, while editor of the
Union, he had disposed of a labored, incoherent, two-column attack made
upon him by a contemporary, with a single line, which, at first glance,
seemed to contain a solemn and tremendous compliment--viz.: "THE LOGIC OF
OUR ADVERSARY RESEMBLES THE PEACE OF GOD,"--and left it to the reader's
memory and after-thought to invest the remark with another and "more
different" meaning by supplying for himself and at his own leisure the
rest of the Scripture--" in that it passeth understanding." He once said
of a little, half-starved, wayside community that had no subsistence
except what they could get by preying upon chance passengers who stopped
over with them a day when traveling by the overland stage, that in their
Church service they had altered the Lord's Prayer to read: "Give us this
day our daily stranger!"

We expected great things of the Occidental. Of course it could not get
along without an original novel, and so we made arrangements to hurl into
the work the full strength of the company. Mrs. F. was an able romancist
of the ineffable school--I know no other name to apply to a school whose
heroes are all dainty and all perfect. She wrote the opening chapter,
and introduced a lovely blonde simpleton who talked nothing but pearls
and poetry and who was virtuous to the verge of eccentricity. She also
introduced a young French Duke of aggravated refinement, in love with the
blonde. Mr. F. followed next week, with a brilliant lawyer who set about
getting the Duke's estates into trouble, and a sparkling young lady of
high society who fell to fascinating the Duke and impairing the appetite
of the blonde. Mr. D., a dark and bloody editor of one of the dailies,
followed Mr. F., the third week, introducing a mysterious Roscicrucian
who transmuted metals, held consultations with the devil in a cave at
dead of night, and cast the horoscope of the several heroes and heroines
in such a way as to provide plenty of trouble for their future careers
and breed a solemn and awful public interest in the novel. He also
introduced a cloaked and masked melodramatic miscreant, put him on a
salary and set him on the midnight track of the Duke with a poisoned
dagger. He also created an Irish coachman with a rich brogue and placed
him in the service of the society-young-lady with an ulterior mission to
carry billet-doux to the Duke.

About this time there arrived in Virginia a dissolute stranger with a
literary turn of mind--rather seedy he was, but very quiet and
unassuming; almost diffident, indeed. He was so gentle, and his manners
were so pleasing and kindly, whether he was sober or intoxicated, that he
made friends of all who came in contact with him. He applied for
literary work, offered conclusive evidence that he wielded an easy and
practiced pen, and so Mr. F. engaged him at once to help write the novel.
His chapter was to follow Mr. D.'s, and mine was to come next. Now what
does this fellow do but go off and get drunk and then proceed to his
quarters and set to work with his imagination in a state of chaos, and
that chaos in a condition of extravagant activity. The result may be
guessed. He scanned the chapters of his predecessors, found plenty of
heroes and heroines already created, and was satisfied with them; he
decided to introduce no more; with all the confidence that whisky
inspires and all the easy complacency it gives to its servant, he then
launched himself lovingly into his work: he married the coachman to the
society-young-lady for the sake of the scandal; married the Duke to the
blonde's stepmother, for the sake of the sensation; stopped the
desperado's salary; created a misunderstanding between the devil and the
Roscicrucian; threw the Duke's property into the wicked lawyer's hands;
made the lawyer's upbraiding conscience drive him to drink, thence to
delirium tremens, thence to suicide; broke the coachman's neck; let his
widow succumb to contumely, neglect, poverty and consumption; caused the
blonde to drown herself, leaving her clothes on the bank with the
customary note pinned to them forgiving the Duke and hoping he would be
happy; revealed to the Duke, by means of the usual strawberry mark on
left arm, that he had married his own long-lost mother and destroyed his
long-lost sister; instituted the proper and necessary suicide of the Duke
and the Duchess in order to compass poetical justice; opened the earth
and let the Roscicrucian through, accompanied with the accustomed smoke
and thunder and smell of brimstone, and finished with the promise that in
the next chapter, after holding a general inquest, he would take up the
surviving character of the novel and tell what became of the devil!
It read with singular smoothness, and with a "dead" earnestness that was
funny enough to suffocate a body. But there was war when it came in.
The other novelists were furious. The mild stranger, not yet more than
half sober, stood there, under a scathing fire of vituperation, meek and
bewildered, looking from one to another of his assailants, and wondering
what he could have done to invoke such a storm. When a lull came at
last, he said his say gently and appealingly--said he did not rightly
remember what he had written, but was sure he had tried to do the best he
could, and knew his object had been to make the novel not only pleasant
and plausible but instructive and----

The bombardment began again. The novelists assailed his ill-chosen
adjectives and demolished them with a storm of denunciation and ridicule.
And so the siege went on. Every time the stranger tried to appease the
enemy he only made matters worse. Finally he offered to rewrite the
chapter. This arrested hostilities. The indignation gradually quieted
down, peace reigned again and the sufferer retired in safety and got him
to his own citadel.

But on the way thither the evil angel tempted him and he got drunk again.
And again his imagination went mad. He led the heroes and heroines a
wilder dance than ever; and yet all through it ran that same convincing
air of honesty and earnestness that had marked his first work. He got
the characters into the most extraordinary situations, put them through
the most surprising performances, and made them talk the strangest talk!
But the chapter cannot be described. It was symmetrically crazy; it was
artistically absurd; and it had explanatory footnotes that were fully as
curious as the text. I remember one of the "situations," and will offer
it as an example of the whole. He altered the character of the brilliant
lawyer, and made him a great-hearted, splendid fellow; gave him fame and
riches, and set his age at thirty-three years. Then he made the blonde
discover, through the help of the Roscicrucian and the melodramatic
miscreant, that while the Duke loved her money ardently and wanted it, he
secretly felt a sort of leaning toward the society-young-lady. Stung to
the quick, she tore her affections from him and bestowed them with
tenfold power upon the lawyer, who responded with consuming zeal. But
the parents would none of it. What they wanted in the family was a Duke;
and a Duke they were determined to have; though they confessed that next
to the Duke the lawyer had their preference. Necessarily the blonde now
went into a decline. The parents were alarmed. They pleaded with her to
marry the Duke, but she steadfastly refused, and pined on. Then they
laid a plan. They told her to wait a year and a day, and if at the end
of that time she still felt that she could not marry the Duke, she might
marry the lawyer with their full consent. The result was as they had
foreseen: gladness came again, and the flush of returning health. Then
the parents took the next step in their scheme. They had the family
physician recommend a long sea voyage and much land travel for the
thorough restoration of the blonde's strength; and they invited the Duke
to be of the party. They judged that the Duke's constant presence and
the lawyer's protracted absence would do the rest--for they did not
invite the lawyer.

So they set sail in a steamer for America--and the third day out, when
their sea-sickness called truce and permitted them to take their first
meal at the public table, behold there sat the lawyer! The Duke and
party made the best of an awkward situation; the voyage progressed, and
the vessel neared America.

But, by and by, two hundred miles off New Bedford, the ship took fire;
she burned to the water's edge; of all her crew and passengers, only
thirty were saved. They floated about the sea half an afternoon and all
night long. Among them were our friends. The lawyer, by superhuman
exertions, had saved the blonde and her parents, swimming back and forth
two hundred yards and bringing one each time--(the girl first). The Duke
had saved himself. In the morning two whale ships arrived on the scene
and sent their boats. The weather was stormy and the embarkation was
attended with much confusion and excitement. The lawyer did his duty
like a man; helped his exhausted and insensible blonde, her parents and
some others into a boat (the Duke helped himself in); then a child fell
overboard at the other end of the raft and the lawyer rushed thither and
helped half a dozen people fish it out, under the stimulus of its
mother's screams. Then he ran back--a few seconds too late--the blonde's
boat was under way. So he had to take the other boat, and go to the
other ship. The storm increased and drove the vessels out of sight of
each other--drove them whither it would.

When it calmed, at the end of three days, the blonde's ship was seven
hundred miles north of Boston and the other about seven hundred south of
that port. The blonde's captain was bound on a whaling cruise in the
North Atlantic and could not go back such a distance or make a port
without orders; such being nautical law. The lawyer's captain was to
cruise in the North Pacific, and he could not go back or make a port
without orders. All the lawyer's money and baggage were in the blonde's
boat and went to the blonde's ship--so his captain made him work his
passage as a common sailor. When both ships had been cruising nearly a
year, the one was off the coast of Greenland and the other in Behring's
Strait. The blonde had long ago been well-nigh persuaded that her lawyer
had been washed overboard and lost just before the whale ships reached
the raft, and now, under the pleadings of her parents and the Duke she
was at last beginning to nerve herself for the doom of the covenant, and
prepare for the hated marriage.

But she would not yield a day before the date set. The weeks dragged on,
the time narrowed, orders were given to deck the ship for the wedding--a
wedding at sea among icebergs and walruses. Five days more and all would
be over. So the blonde reflected, with a sigh and a tear. Oh where was
her true love--and why, why did he not come and save her? At that moment
he was lifting his harpoon to strike a whale in Behring's Strait, five
thousand miles away, by the way of the Arctic Ocean, or twenty thousand
by the way of the Horn--that was the reason. He struck, but not with
perfect aim--his foot slipped and he fell in the whale's mouth and went
down his throat. He was insensible five days. Then he came to himself
and heard voices; daylight was streaming through a hole cut in the
whale's roof. He climbed out and astonished the sailors who were
hoisting blubber up a ship's side. He recognized the vessel, flew
aboard, surprised the wedding party at the altar and exclaimed:

"Stop the proceedings--I'm here! Come to my arms, my own!"

There were foot-notes to this extravagant piece of literature wherein the
author endeavored to show that the whole thing was within the
possibilities; he said he got the incident of the whale traveling from
Behring's Strait to the coast of Greenland, five thousand miles in five
days, through the Arctic Ocean, from Charles Reade's "Love Me Little Love
Me Long," and considered that that established the fact that the thing
could be done; and he instanced Jonah's adventure as proof that a man
could live in a whale's belly, and added that if a preacher could stand
it three days a lawyer could surely stand it five!

There was a fiercer storm than ever in the editorial sanctum now, and the
stranger was peremptorily discharged, and his manuscript flung at his
head. But he had already delayed things so much that there was not time
for some one else to rewrite the chapter, and so the paper came out
without any novel in it. It was but a feeble, struggling, stupid
journal, and the absence of the novel probably shook public confidence;
at any rate, before the first side of the next issue went to press, the
Weekly Occidental died as peacefully as an infant.

An effort was made to resurrect it, with the proposed advantage of a
telling new title, and Mr. F. said that The Phenix would be just the name
for it, because it would give the idea of a resurrection from its dead
ashes in a new and undreamed of condition of splendor; but some low-
priced smarty on one of the dailies suggested that we call it the
Lazarus; and inasmuch as the people were not profound in Scriptural
matters but thought the resurrected Lazarus and the dilapidated mendicant
that begged in the rich man's gateway were one and the same person, the
name became the laughing stock of the town, and killed the paper for good
and all.

I was sorry enough, for I was very proud of being connected with a
literary paper--prouder than I have ever been of anything since, perhaps.
I had written some rhymes for it--poetry I considered it--and it was a
great grief to me that the production was on the "first side" of the
issue that was not completed, and hence did not see the light. But time
brings its revenges--I can put it in here; it will answer in place of a
tear dropped to the memory of the lost Occidental. The idea (not the
chief idea, but the vehicle that bears it) was probably suggested by the
old song called "The Raging Canal," but I cannot remember now. I do
remember, though, that at that time I thought my doggerel was one of the
ablest poems of the age:


THE AGED PILOT MAN.

On the Erie Canal, it was,
All on a summer's day,
I sailed forth with my parents
Far away to Albany.

From out the clouds at noon that day
There came a dreadful storm,
That piled the billows high about,
And filled us with alarm.

A man came rushing from a house,
Saying, "Snub up your boat I pray,
[The customary canal technicality for "tie up."]
Snub up your boat, snub up, alas,
Snub up while yet you may."

Our captain cast one glance astern,
Then forward glanced he,
And said, "My wife and little ones
I never more shall see."

Said Dollinger the pilot man,
In noble words, but few,--
"Fear not, but lean on Dollinger,
And he will fetch you through."

The boat drove on, the frightened mules
Tore through the rain and wind,
And bravely still, in danger's post,
The whip-boy strode behind.

"Come 'board, come 'board," the captain cried,
"Nor tempt so wild a storm;"
But still the raging mules advanced,
And still the boy strode on.

Then said the captain to us all,
"Alas, 'tis plain to me,
The greater danger is not there,
But here upon the sea.

"So let us strive, while life remains,
To save all souls on board,
And then if die at last we must,
Let . . . . I cannot speak the word!"

Said Dollinger the pilot man,
Tow'ring above the crew,
"Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
And he will fetch you through."

"Low bridge! low bridge!" all heads went down,
The laboring bark sped on;
A mill we passed, we passed church,
Hamlets, and fields of corn;
And all the world came out to see,
And chased along the shore
Crying, "Alas, alas, the sheeted rain,
The wind, the tempest's roar!
Alas, the gallant ship and crew,
Can nothing help them more?"

And from our deck sad eyes looked out
Across the stormy scene:
The tossing wake of billows aft,
The bending forests green,
The chickens sheltered under carts
In lee of barn the cows,
The skurrying swine with straw in mouth,
The wild spray from our bows!

"She balances!
She wavers!
Now let her go about!
If she misses stays and broaches to,
We're all"--then with a shout,]
"Huray! huray!
Avast! belay!
Take in more sail!
Lord, what a gale!
Ho, boy, haul taut on the hind mule's tail!"
"Ho! lighten ship! ho! man the pump!
Ho, hostler, heave the lead!"

"A quarter-three!--'tis shoaling fast!
Three feet large!--t-h-r-e-e feet!--
Three feet scant!" I cried in fright
"Oh, is there no retreat?"

Said Dollinger, the pilot man,
As on the vessel flew,
"Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
And he will fetch you through."

A panic struck the bravest hearts,
The boldest cheek turned pale;
For plain to all, this shoaling said
A leak had burst the ditch's bed!
And, straight as bolt from crossbow sped,
Our ship swept on, with shoaling lead,
Before the fearful gale!

"Sever the tow-line! Cripple the mules!"
Too late! There comes a shock!
Another length, and the fated craft
Would have swum in the saving lock!

Then gathered together the shipwrecked crew
And took one last embrace,
While sorrowful tears from despairing eyes
Ran down each hopeless face;
And some did think of their little ones
Whom they never more might see,
And others of waiting wives at home,
And mothers that grieved would be.

But of all the children of misery there
On that poor sinking frame,
But one spake words of hope and faith,
And I worshipped as they came:
Said Dollinger the pilot man,--
(O brave heart, strong and true!)--
"Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
For he will fetch you through."

Lo! scarce the words have passed his lips
The dauntless prophet say'th,
When every soul about him seeth
A wonder crown his faith!

And count ye all, both great and small,
As numbered with the dead:
For mariner for forty year,
On Erie, boy and man,
I never yet saw such a storm,
Or one't with it began!"

So overboard a keg of nails
And anvils three we threw,
Likewise four bales of gunny-sacks,
Two hundred pounds of glue,
Two sacks of corn, four ditto wheat,
A box of books, a cow,
A violin, Lord Byron's works,
A rip-saw and a sow.

A curve! a curve! the dangers grow!
"Labbord!--stabbord!--s-t-e-a-d-y!--so!--
Hard-a-port, Dol!--hellum-a-lee!
Haw the head mule!--the aft one gee!
Luff!--bring her to the wind!"

For straight a farmer brought a plank,--
(Mysteriously inspired)--
And laying it unto the ship,
In silent awe retired.

Then every sufferer stood amazed
That pilot man before;
A moment stood. Then wondering turned,
And speechless walked ashore.

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Index Index

Prefactory
Contents
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXVIII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII
Chapter LIX
Chapter LX
Chapter LXI
Chapter LXII
Chapter LXIII
Chapter LXIV
Chapter LXV
Chapter LXVI
Chapter LXVII
Chapter LXVIII
Chapter LXIX
Chapter LXX
Chapter LXXI
Chapter LXXII
Chapter LXXIII
Chapter LXXIV
Chapter LXXV
Chapter LXXVI
Chapter LXXVII
Chapter LXXVIII
Chapter LXXIX
Appendix

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