The Complete Works of Mark Twain


 
 
Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter LXXVII

Roughing It

Chapter LXXVII



I stumbled upon one curious character in the Island of Mani. He became a
sore annoyance to me in the course of time. My first glimpse of him was
in a sort of public room in the town of Lahaina. He occupied a chair at
the opposite side of the apartment, and sat eyeing our party with
interest for some minutes, and listening as critically to what we were
saying as if he fancied we were talking to him and expecting him to
reply. I thought it very sociable in a stranger. Presently, in the
course of conversation, I made a statement bearing upon the subject under
discussion--and I made it with due modesty, for there was nothing
extraordinary about it, and it was only put forth in illustration of a
point at issue. I had barely finished when this person spoke out with
rapid utterance and feverish anxiety:

"Oh, that was certainly remarkable, after a fashion, but you ought to
have seen my chimney--you ought to have seen my chimney, sir! Smoke!
I wish I may hang if--Mr. Jones, you remember that chimney--you must
remember that chimney! No, no--I recollect, now, you warn't living on
this side of the island then. But I am telling you nothing but the
truth, and I wish I may never draw another breath if that chimney didn't
smoke so that the smoke actually got caked in it and I had to dig it out
with a pickaxe! You may smile, gentlemen, but the High Sheriff's got a
hunk of it which I dug out before his eyes, and so it's perfectly easy
for you to go and examine for yourselves."

The interruption broke up the conversation, which had already begun to
lag, and we presently hired some natives and an out-rigger canoe or two,
and went out to overlook a grand surf-bathing contest.

Two weeks after this, while talking in a company, I looked up and
detected this same man boring through and through me with his intense
eye, and noted again his twitching muscles and his feverish anxiety to
speak. The moment I paused, he said:

"Beg your pardon, sir, beg your pardon, but it can only be considered
remarkable when brought into strong outline by isolation. Sir,
contrasted with a circumstance which occurred in my own experience, it
instantly becomes commonplace. No, not that--for I will not speak so
discourteously of any experience in the career of a stranger and a
gentleman--but I am obliged to say that you could not, and you would not
ever again refer to this tree as a large one, if you could behold, as I
have, the great Yakmatack tree, in the island of Ounaska, sea of
Kamtchatka--a tree, sir, not one inch less than four hundred and fifteen
feet in solid diameter!--and I wish I may die in a minute if it isn't so!
Oh, you needn't look so questioning, gentlemen; here's old Cap Saltmarsh
can say whether I know what I'm talking about or not. I showed him the
tree."

Captain Saltmarsh--"Come, now, cat your anchor, lad--you're heaving too
taut. You promised to show me that stunner, and I walked more than
eleven mile with you through the cussedest jungle I ever see, a hunting
for it; but the tree you showed me finally warn't as big around as a beer
cask, and you know that your own self, Markiss."

"Hear the man talk! Of course the tree was reduced that way, but didn't
I explain it? Answer me, didn't I? Didn't I say I wished you could have
seen it when I first saw it? When you got up on your ear and called me
names, and said I had brought you eleven miles to look at a sapling,
didn't I explain to you that all the whale-ships in the North Seas had
been wooding off of it for more than twenty-seven years? And did you
s'pose the tree could last for-ever, con-found it? I don't see why you
want to keep back things that way, and try to injure a person that's
never done you any harm."

Somehow this man's presence made me uncomfortable, and I was glad when a
native arrived at that moment to say that Muckawow, the most
companionable and luxurious among the rude war-chiefs of the Islands,
desired us to come over and help him enjoy a missionary whom he had found
trespassing on his grounds.

I think it was about ten days afterward that, as I finished a statement I
was making for the instruction of a group of friends and acquaintances,
and which made no pretence of being extraordinary, a familiar voice
chimed instantly in on the heels of my last word, and said:

"But, my dear sir, there was nothing remarkable about that horse, or the
circumstance either--nothing in the world! I mean no sort of offence
when I say it, sir, but you really do not know anything whatever about
speed. Bless your heart, if you could only have seen my mare Margaretta;
there was a beast!--there was lightning for you! Trot! Trot is no name
for it--she flew! How she could whirl a buggy along! I started her out
once, sir--Colonel Bilgewater, you recollect that animal perfectly well--
I started her out about thirty or thirty-five yards ahead of the
awfullest storm I ever saw in my life, and it chased us upwards of
eighteen miles! It did, by the everlasting hills! And I'm telling you
nothing but the unvarnished truth when I say that not one single drop of
rain fell on me--not a single drop, sir! And I swear to it! But my dog
was a-swimming behind the wagon all the way!"

For a week or two I stayed mostly within doors, for I seemed to meet this
person everywhere, and he had become utterly hateful to me. But one
evening I dropped in on Captain Perkins and his friends, and we had a
sociable time. About ten o'clock I chanced to be talking about a
merchant friend of mine, and without really intending it, the remark
slipped out that he was a little mean and parsimonious about paying his
workmen. Instantly, through the steam of a hot whiskey punch on the
opposite side of the room, a remembered voice shot--and for a moment I
trembled on the imminent verge of profanity:

"Oh, my dear sir, really you expose yourself when you parade that as a
surprising circumstance. Bless your heart and hide, you are ignorant of
the very A B C of meanness! ignorant as the unborn babe! ignorant as
unborn twins! You don't know anything about it! It is pitiable to see
you, sir, a well-spoken and prepossessing stranger, making such an
enormous pow-wow here about a subject concerning which your ignorance is
perfectly humiliating! Look me in the eye, if you please; look me in the
eye. John James Godfrey was the son of poor but honest parents in the
State of Mississippi--boyhood friend of mine--bosom comrade in later
years. Heaven rest his noble spirit, he is gone from us now. John James
Godfrey was hired by the Hayblossom Mining Company in California to do
some blasting for them--the "Incorporated Company of Mean Men," the boys
used to call it.

"Well, one day he drilled a hole about four feet deep and put in an awful
blast of powder, and was standing over it ramming it down with an iron
crowbar about nine foot long, when the cussed thing struck a spark and
fired the powder, and scat! away John Godfrey whizzed like a skyrocket,
him and his crowbar! Well, sir, he kept on going up in the air higher
and higher, till he didn't look any bigger than a boy--and he kept going
on up higher and higher, till he didn't look any bigger than a doll--and
he kept on going up higher and higher, till he didn't look any bigger
than a little small bee--and then he went out of sight! Presently he
came in sight again, looking like a little small bee--and he came along
down further and further, till he looked as big as a doll again--and down
further and further, till he was as big as a boy again--and further and
further, till he was a full-sized man once more; and then him and his
crowbar came a wh-izzing down and lit right exactly in the same old
tracks and went to r-ramming down, and r-ramming down, and r-ramming down
again, just the same as if nothing had happened! Now do you know, that
poor cuss warn't gone only sixteen minutes, and yet that Incorporated
Company of Mean Men DOCKED HIM FOR THE LOST TIME!"

I said I had the headache, and so excused myself and went home. And on
my diary I entered "another night spoiled" by this offensive loafer.
And a fervent curse was set down with it to keep the item company. And
the very next day I packed up, out of all patience, and left the Island.

Almost from the very beginning, I regarded that man as a liar.

The line of points represents an interval of years. At the end of which
time the opinion hazarded in that last sentence came to be gratifyingly
and remarkably endorsed, and by wholly disinterested persons. The man
Markiss was found one morning hanging to a beam of his own bedroom (the
doors and windows securely fastened on the inside), dead; and on his
breast was pinned a paper in his own handwriting begging his friends to
suspect no innocent person of having any thing to do with his death, for
that it was the work of his own hands entirely. Yet the jury brought in
the astounding verdict that deceased came to his death "by the hands of
some person or persons unknown!" They explained that the perfectly
undeviating consistency of Markiss's character for thirty years towered
aloft as colossal and indestructible testimony, that whatever statement
he chose to make was entitled to instant and unquestioning acceptance as
a lie. And they furthermore stated their belief that he was not dead,
and instanced the strong circumstantial evidence of his own word that he
was dead--and beseeched the coroner to delay the funeral as long as
possible, which was done. And so in the tropical climate of Lahaina the
coffin stood open for seven days, and then even the loyal jury gave him
up. But they sat on him again, and changed their verdict to "suicide
induced by mental aberration"--because, said they, with penetration, "he
said he was dead, and he was dead; and would he have told the truth if he
had been in his right mind? No, sir."

< Back
Forward >












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

Other Authors Other Authors


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