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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter LXX

Roughing It

Chapter LXX


We stopped some time at one of the plantations, to rest ourselves and
refresh the horses. We had a chatty conversation with several gentlemen
present; but there was one person, a middle aged man, with an absent look
in his face, who simply glanced up, gave us good-day and lapsed again
into the meditations which our coming had interrupted. The planters
whispered us not to mind him--crazy. They said he was in the Islands for
his health; was a preacher; his home, Michigan. They said that if he
woke up presently and fell to talking about a correspondence which he had
some time held with Mr. Greeley about a trifle of some kind, we must
humor him and listen with interest; and we must humor his fancy that this
correspondence was the talk of the world.

It was easy to see that he was a gentle creature and that his madness had
nothing vicious in it. He looked pale, and a little worn, as if with
perplexing thought and anxiety of mind. He sat a long time, looking at
the floor, and at intervals muttering to himself and nodding his head
acquiescingly or shaking it in mild protest. He was lost in his thought,
or in his memories. We continued our talk with the planters, branching
from subject to subject. But at last the word "circumstance," casually
dropped, in the course of conversation, attracted his attention and
brought an eager look into his countenance. He faced about in his chair
and said:

"Circumstance? What circumstance? Ah, I know--I know too well. So you
have heard of it too." [With a sigh.] "Well, no matter--all the world
has heard of it. All the world. The whole world. It is a large world,
too, for a thing to travel so far in--now isn't it? Yes, yes--the
Greeley correspondence with Erickson has created the saddest and
bitterest controversy on both sides of the ocean--and still they keep it
up! It makes us famous, but at what a sorrowful sacrifice! I was so
sorry when I heard that it had caused that bloody and distressful war
over there in Italy. It was little comfort to me, after so much
bloodshed, to know that the victors sided with me, and the vanquished
with Greeley.--It is little comfort to know that Horace Greeley is
responsible for the battle of Sadowa, and not me.

"Queen Victoria wrote me that she felt just as I did about it--she said
that as much as she was opposed to Greeley and the spirit he showed in
the correspondence with me, she would not have had Sadowa happen for
hundreds of dollars. I can show you her letter, if you would like to see
it. But gentlemen, much as you may think you know about that unhappy
correspondence, you cannot know the straight of it till you hear it from
my lips. It has always been garbled in the journals, and even in
history. Yes, even in history--think of it! Let me--please let me, give
you the matter, exactly as it occurred. I truly will not abuse your
confidence."

Then he leaned forward, all interest, all earnestness, and told his
story--and told it appealingly, too, and yet in the simplest and most
unpretentious way; indeed, in such a way as to suggest to one, all the
time, that this was a faithful, honorable witness, giving evidence in the
sacred interest of justice, and under oath. He said:

"Mrs. Beazeley--Mrs. Jackson Beazeley, widow, of the village of
Campbellton, Kansas,--wrote me about a matter which was near her heart
--a matter which many might think trivial, but to her it was a thing of
deep concern. I was living in Michigan, then--serving in the ministry.
She was, and is, an estimable woman--a woman to whom poverty and hardship
have proven incentives to industry, in place of discouragements.
Her only treasure was her son William, a youth just verging upon manhood;
religious, amiable, and sincerely attached to agriculture. He was the
widow's comfort and her pride. And so, moved by her love for him, she
wrote me about a matter, as I have said before, which lay near her heart
--because it lay near her boy's. She desired me to confer with
Mr. Greeley about turnips. Turnips were the dream of her child's young
ambition. While other youths were frittering away in frivolous
amusements the precious years of budding vigor which God had given them
for useful preparation, this boy was patiently enriching his mind with
information concerning turnips. The sentiment which he felt toward the
turnip was akin to adoration. He could not think of the turnip without
emotion; he could not speak of it calmly; he could not contemplate it
without exaltation. He could not eat it without shedding tears. All the
poetry in his sensitive nature was in sympathy with the gracious
vegetable. With the earliest pipe of dawn he sought his patch, and when
the curtaining night drove him from it he shut himself up with his books
and garnered statistics till sleep overcame him. On rainy days he sat
and talked hours together with his mother about turnips. When company
came, he made it his loving duty to put aside everything else and
converse with them all the day long of his great joy in the turnip.

"And yet, was this joy rounded and complete? Was there no secret alloy of
unhappiness in it? Alas, there was. There was a canker gnawing at his
heart; the noblest inspiration of his soul eluded his endeavor--viz: he
could not make of the turnip a climbing vine. Months went by; the bloom
forsook his cheek, the fire faded out of his eye; sighings and
abstraction usurped the place of smiles and cheerful converse. But a
watchful eye noted these things and in time a motherly sympathy unsealed
the secret. Hence the letter to me. She pleaded for attention--she said
her boy was dying by inches.

"I was a stranger to Mr. Greeley, but what of that? The matter was
urgent. I wrote and begged him to solve the difficult problem if
possible and save the student's life. My interest grew, until it partook
of the anxiety of the mother. I waited in much suspense.--At last the
answer came.

"I found that I could not read it readily, the handwriting being
unfamiliar and my emotions somewhat wrought up. It seemed to refer in
part to the boy's case, but chiefly to other and irrelevant matters--such
as paving-stones, electricity, oysters, and something which I took to be
'absolution' or 'agrarianism,' I could not be certain which; still, these
appeared to be simply casual mentions, nothing more; friendly in spirit,
without doubt, but lacking the connection or coherence necessary to make
them useful.--I judged that my understanding was affected by my feelings,
and so laid the letter away till morning.

"In the morning I read it again, but with difficulty and uncertainty
still, for I had lost some little rest and my mental vision seemed
clouded. The note was more connected, now, but did not meet the
emergency it was expected to meet. It was too discursive. It appeared
to read as follows, though I was not certain of some of the words:

     "Polygamy dissembles majesty; extracts redeem polarity; causes
     hitherto exist. Ovations pursue wisdom, or warts inherit and
     condemn. Boston, botany, cakes, folony undertakes, but who shall
     allay? We fear not. Yrxwly,
                             HEVACE EVEELOJ.'

"But there did not seem to be a word about turnips. There seemed to be
no suggestion as to how they might be made to grow like vines. There was
not even a reference to the Beazeleys. I slept upon the matter; I ate no
supper, neither any breakfast next morning. So I resumed my work with a
brain refreshed, and was very hopeful. Now the letter took a different
aspect-all save the signature, which latter I judged to be only a
harmless affectation of Hebrew. The epistle was necessarily from Mr.
Greeley, for it bore the printed heading of The Tribune, and I had
written to no one else there. The letter, I say, had taken a different
aspect, but still its language was eccentric and avoided the issue. It
now appeared to say:

     "Bolivia extemporizes mackerel; borax esteems polygamy; sausages
     wither in the east. Creation perdu, is done; for woes inherent one
     can damn. Buttons, buttons, corks, geology underrates but we shall
     allay. My beer's out. Yrxwly,
                                         HEVACE EVEELOJ.'

"I was evidently overworked. My comprehension was impaired. Therefore I
gave two days to recreation, and then returned to my task greatly
refreshed. The letter now took this form:

     "Poultices do sometimes choke swine; tulips reduce posterity; causes
     leather to resist. Our notions empower wisdom, her let's afford
     while we can. Butter but any cakes, fill any undertaker, we'll wean
     him from his filly. We feel hot.
                                    Yrxwly, HEVACE EVEELOJ.'

"I was still not satisfied. These generalities did not meet the
question. They were crisp, and vigorous, and delivered with a confidence
that almost compelled conviction; but at such a time as this, with a
human life at stake, they seemed inappropriate, worldly, and in bad
taste. At any other time I would have been not only glad, but proud, to
receive from a man like Mr. Greeley a letter of this kind, and would have
studied it earnestly and tried to improve myself all I could; but now,
with that poor boy in his far home languishing for relief, I had no heart
for learning.

"Three days passed by, and I read the note again. Again its tenor had
changed. It now appeared to say:

     "Potations do sometimes wake wines; turnips restrain passion; causes
     necessary to state. Infest the poor widow; her lord's effects will
     be void. But dirt, bathing, etc., etc., followed unfairly, will
     worm him from his folly--so swear not.
                                             Yrxwly, HEVACE EVEELOJ.'

"This was more like it. But I was unable to proceed. I was too much
worn. The word 'turnips' brought temporary joy and encouragement, but my
strength was so much impaired, and the delay might be so perilous for the
boy, that I relinquished the idea of pursuing the translation further,
and resolved to do what I ought to have done at first. I sat down and
wrote Mr. Greeley as follows:

     "DEAR SIR: I fear I do not entirely comprehend your kind note. It
     cannot be possible, Sir, that 'turnips restrain passion'--at least
     the study or contemplation of turnips cannot--for it is this very
     employment that has scorched our poor friend's mind and sapped his
     bodily strength.--But if they do restrain it, will you bear with us
     a little further and explain how they should be prepared? I observe
     that you say 'causes necessary to state,' but you have omitted to
     state them.

     "Under a misapprehension, you seem to attribute to me interested
     motives in this matter--to call it by no harsher term. But I assure
     you, dear sir, that if I seem to be 'infesting the widow,' it is all
     seeming, and void of reality. It is from no seeking of mine that I
     am in this position. She asked me, herself, to write you. I never
     have infested her--indeed I scarcely know her. I do not infest
     anybody. I try to go along, in my humble way, doing as near right
     as I can, never harming anybody, and never throwing out
     insinuations. As for 'her lord and his effects,' they are of no
     interest to me. I trust I have effects enough of my own--shall
     endeavor to get along with them, at any rate, and not go mousing
     around to get hold of somebody's that are 'void.' But do you not
     see?--this woman is a widow--she has no 'lord.' He is dead--or
     pretended to be, when they buried him. Therefore, no amount of
     'dirt, bathing,' etc., etc., howsoever 'unfairly followed' will be
     likely to 'worm him from his folly'--if being dead and a ghost is
     'folly.' Your closing remark is as unkind as it was uncalled for;
     and if report says true you might have applied it to yourself, sir,
     with more point and less impropriety.
                             Very Truly Yours, SIMON ERICKSON.

"In the course of a few days, Mr. Greely did what would have saved a
world of trouble, and much mental and bodily suffering and
misunderstanding, if he had done it sooner. To wit, he sent an
intelligible rescript or translation of his original note, made in a
plain hand by his clerk. Then the mystery cleared, and I saw that his
heart had been right, all the time. I will recite the note in its
clarified form:

     [Translation.]
     'Potatoes do sometimes make vines; turnips remain passive: cause
     unnecessary to state. Inform the poor widow her lad's efforts will
     be vain. But diet, bathing, etc. etc., followed uniformly, will
     wean him from his folly--so fear not.
                                         Yours, HORACE GREELEY.'

"But alas, it was too late, gentlemen--too late. The criminal delay had
done its work--young Beazely was no more. His spirit had taken its
flight to a land where all anxieties shall be charmed away, all desires
gratified, all ambitions realized. Poor lad, they laid him to his rest
with a turnip in each hand."

So ended Erickson, and lapsed again into nodding, mumbling, and
abstraction. The company broke up, and left him so.... But they did not
say what drove him crazy. In the momentary confusion, I forgot to ask.

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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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