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Mark Twain > The Mysterious Stranger > Chapter 2

The Mysterious Stranger

Chapter 2


Three of us boys were always together, and had been so from the cradle,
being fond of one another from the beginning, and this affection deepened
as the years went on--Nikolaus Bauman, son of the principal judge of the
local court; Seppi Wohlmeyer, son of the keeper of the principal inn, the
"Golden Stag," which had a nice garden, with shade trees reaching down to
the riverside, and pleasure boats for hire; and I was the third--Theodor
Fischer, son of the church organist, who was also leader of the village
musicians, teacher of the violin, composer, tax-collector of the commune,
sexton, and in other ways a useful citizen, and respected by all. We
knew the hills and the woods as well as the birds knew them; for we were
always roaming them when we had leisure--at least, when we were not
swimming or boating or fishing, or playing on the ice or sliding down
hill.

And we had the run of the castle park, and very few had that. It was
because we were pets of the oldest servingman in the castle--Felix
Brandt; and often we went there, nights, to hear him talk about old times
and strange things, and to smoke with him (he taught us that) and to
drink coffee; for he had served in the wars, and was at the siege of
Vienna; and there, when the Turks were defeated and driven away, among
the captured things were bags of coffee, and the Turkish prisoners
explained the character of it and how to make a pleasant drink out of it,
and now he always kept coffee by him, to drink himself and also to
astonish the ignorant with. When it stormed he kept us all night; and
while it thundered and lightened outside he told us about ghosts and
horrors of every kind, and of battles and murders and mutilations, and
such things, and made it pleasant and cozy inside; and he told these
things from his own experience largely. He had seen many ghosts in his
time, and witches and enchanters, and once he was lost in a fierce storm
at midnight in the mountains, and by the glare of the lightning had seen
the Wild Huntsman rage on the blast with his specter dogs chasing after
him through the driving cloud-rack. Also he had seen an incubus once,
and several times he had seen the great bat that sucks the blood from the
necks of people while they are asleep, fanning them softly with its wings
and so keeping them drowsy till they die.

He encouraged us not to fear supernatural things, such as ghosts, and
said they did no harm, but only wandered about because they were lonely
and distressed and wanted kindly notice and compassion; and in time we
learned not to be afraid, and even went down with him in the night to the
haunted chamber in the dungeons of the castle. The ghost appeared only
once, and it went by very dim to the sight and floated noiseless through
the air, and then disappeared; and we scarcely trembled, he had taught us
so well. He said it came up sometimes in the night and woke him by
passing its clammy hand over his face, but it did him no hurt; it only
wanted sympathy and notice. But the strangest thing was that he had seen
angels--actual angels out of heaven--and had talked with them. They had
no wings, and wore clothes, and talked and looked and acted just like any
natural person, and you would never know them for angels except for the
wonderful things they did which a mortal could not do, and the way they
suddenly disappeared while you were talking with them, which was also a
thing which no mortal could do. And he said they were pleasant and
cheerful, not gloomy and melancholy, like ghosts.

It was after that kind of a talk one May night that we got up next
morning and had a good breakfast with him and then went down and crossed
the bridge and went away up into the hills on the left to a woody hill-
top which was a favorite place of ours, and there we stretched out on the
grass in the shade to rest and smoke and talk over these strange things,
for they were in our minds yet, and impressing us. But we couldn't
smoke, because we had been heedless and left our flint and steel behind.

Soon there came a youth strolling toward us through the trees, and he sat
down and began to talk in a friendly way, just as if he knew us. But we
did not answer him, for he was a stranger and we were not used to
strangers and were shy of them. He had new and good clothes on, and was
handsome and had a winning face and a pleasant voice, and was easy and
graceful and unembarrassed, not slouchy and awkward and diffident, like
other boys. We wanted to be friendly with him, but didn't know how to
begin. Then I thought of the pipe, and wondered if it would be taken as
kindly meant if I offered it to him. But I remembered that we had no
fire, so I was sorry and disappointed. But he looked up bright and
pleased, and said:

"Fire? Oh, that is easy; I will furnish it."

I was so astonished I couldn't speak; for I had not said anything. He
took the pipe and blew his breath on it, and the tobacco glowed red, and
spirals of blue smoke rose up. We jumped up and were going to run, for
that was natural; and we did run a few steps, although he was yearningly
pleading for us to stay, and giving us his word that he would not do us
any harm, but only wanted to be friends with us and have company. So we
stopped and stood, and wanted to go back, being full of curiosity and
wonder, but afraid to venture. He went on coaxing, in his soft,
persuasive way; and when we saw that the pipe did not blow up and nothing
happened, our confidence returned by little and little, and presently our
curiosity got to be stronger than our fear, and we ventured back--but
slowly, and ready to fly at any alarm.

He was bent on putting us at ease, and he had the right art; one could
not remain doubtful and timorous where a person was so earnest and simple
and gentle, and talked so alluringly as he did; no, he won us over, and
it was not long before we were content and comfortable and chatty, and
glad we had found this new friend. When the feeling of constraint was
all gone we asked him how he had learned to do that strange thing, and he
said he hadn't learned it at all; it came natural to him--like other
things--other curious things.

"What ones?"

"Oh, a number; I don't know how many."

"Will you let us see you do them?"

"Do--please!" the others said.

"You won't run away again?"

"No--indeed we won't. Please do. Won't you?"

"Yes, with pleasure; but you mustn't forget your promise, you know."

We said we wouldn't, and he went to a puddle and came back with water in
a cup which he had made out of a leaf, and blew upon it and threw it out,
and it was a lump of ice the shape of the cup. We were astonished and
charmed, but not afraid any more; we were very glad to be there, and
asked him to go on and do some more things. And he did. He said he
would give us any kind of fruit we liked, whether it was in season or
not. We all spoke at once;

"Orange!"

"Apple!"

"Grapes!"

"They are in your pockets," he said, and it was true. And they were of
the best, too, and we ate them and wished we had more, though none of us
said so.

"You will find them where those came from," he said, "and everything else
your appetites call for; and you need not name the thing you wish; as
long as I am with you, you have only to wish and find."

And he said true. There was never anything so wonderful and so
interesting. Bread, cakes, sweets, nuts--whatever one wanted, it was
there. He ate nothing himself, but sat and chatted, and did one curious
thing after another to amuse us. He made a tiny toy squirrel out of
clay, and it ran up a tree and sat on a limb overhead and barked down at
us. Then he made a dog that was not much larger than a mouse, and it
treed the squirrel and danced about the tree, excited and barking, and
was as alive as any dog could be. It frightened the squirrel from tree
to tree and followed it up until both were out of sight in the forest.
He made birds out of clay and set them free, and they flew away, singing.

At last I made bold to ask him to tell us who he was.

"An angel," he said, quite simply, and set another bird free and clapped
his hands and made it fly away.

A kind of awe fell upon us when we heard him say that, and we were afraid
again; but he said we need not be troubled, there was no occasion for us
to be afraid of an angel, and he liked us, anyway. He went on chatting
as simply and unaffectedly as ever; and while he talked he made a crowd
of little men and women the size of your finger, and they went diligently
to work and cleared and leveled off a space a couple of yards square in
the grass and began to build a cunning little castle in it, the women
mixing the mortar and carrying it up the scaffoldings in pails on their
heads, just as our work-women have always done, and the men laying the
courses of masonry--five hundred of these toy people swarming briskly
about and working diligently and wiping the sweat off their faces as
natural as life. In the absorbing interest of watching those five
hundred little people make the castle grow step by step and course by
course, and take shape and symmetry, that feeling and awe soon passed
away and we were quite comfortable and at home again. We asked if we
might make some people, and he said yes, and told Seppi to make some
cannon for the walls, and told Nikolaus to make some halberdiers, with
breastplates and greaves and helmets, and I was to make some cavalry,
with horses, and in allotting these tasks he called us by our names, but
did not say how he knew them. Then Seppi asked him what his own name
was, and he said, tranquilly, "Satan," and held out a chip and caught a
little woman on it who was falling from the scaffolding and put her back
where she belonged, and said, "She is an idiot to step backward like that
and not notice what she is about."

It caught us suddenly, that name did, and our work dropped out of our
hands and broke to pieces--a cannon, a halberdier, and a horse. Satan
laughed, and asked what was the matter. I said, "Nothing, only it seemed
a strange name for an angel." He asked why.

"Because it's--it's--well, it's his name, you know."

"Yes--he is my uncle."

He said it placidly, but it took our breath for a moment and made our
hearts beat. He did not seem to notice that, but mended our halberdiers
and things with a touch, handing them to us finished, and said, "Don't
you remember?--he was an angel himself, once."

"Yes--it's true," said Seppi; "I didn't think of that."

"Before the Fall he was blameless."

"Yes," said Nikolaus, "he was without sin."

"It is a good family--ours," said Satan; "there is not a better. He is
the only member of it that has ever sinned."

I should not be able to make any one understand how exciting it all was.
You know that kind of quiver that trembles around through you when you
are seeing something so strange and enchanting and wonderful that it is
just a fearful joy to be alive and look at it; and you know how you gaze,
and your lips turn dry and your breath comes short, but you wouldn't be
anywhere but there, not for the world. I was bursting to ask one
question--I had it on my tongue's end and could hardly hold it back--but
I was ashamed to ask it; it might be a rudeness. Satan set an ox down
that he had been making, and smiled up at me and said:

"It wouldn't be a rudeness, and I should forgive it if it was. Have I
seen him? Millions of times. From the time that I was a little child a
thousand years old I was his second favorite among the nursery angels of
our blood and lineage--to use a human phrase--yes, from that time until
the Fall, eight thousand years, measured as you count time."

"Eight--thousand!"

"Yes." He turned to Seppi, and went on as if answering something that was
in Seppi's mind: "Why, naturally I look like a boy, for that is what I
am. With us what you call time is a spacious thing; it takes a long
stretch of it to grow an angel to full age." There was a question in my
mind, and he turned to me and answered it, "I am sixteen thousand years
old--counting as you count." Then he turned to Nikolaus and said: "No,
the Fall did not affect me nor the rest of the relationship. It was only
he that I was named for who ate of the fruit of the tree and then
beguiled the man and the woman with it. We others are still ignorant of
sin; we are not able to commit it; we are without blemish, and shall
abide in that estate always. We--" Two of the little workmen were
quarreling, and in buzzing little bumblebee voices they were cursing and
swearing at each other; now came blows and blood; then they locked
themselves together in a life-and-death struggle. Satan reached out his
hand and crushed the life out of them with his fingers, threw them away,
wiped the red from his fingers on his handkerchief, and went on talking
where he had left off: "We cannot do wrong; neither have we any
disposition to do it, for we do not know what it is."

It seemed a strange speech, in the circumstances, but we barely noticed
that, we were so shocked and grieved at the wanton murder he had
committed--for murder it was, that was its true name, and it was without
palliation or excuse, for the men had not wronged him in any way. It
made us miserable, for we loved him, and had thought him so noble and so
beautiful and gracious, and had honestly believed he was an angel; and to
have him do this cruel thing--ah, it lowered him so, and we had had such
pride in him. He went right on talking, just as if nothing had happened,
telling about his travels, and the interesting things he had seen in the
big worlds of our solar systems and of other solar systems far away in
the remotenesses of space, and about the customs of the immortals that
inhabit them, somehow fascinating us, enchanting us, charming us in spite
of the pitiful scene that was now under our eyes, for the wives of the
little dead men had found the crushed and shapeless bodies and were
crying over them, and sobbing and lamenting, and a priest was kneeling
there with his hands crossed upon his breast, praying; and crowds and
crowds of pitying friends were massed about them, reverently uncovered,
with their bare heads bowed, and many with the tears running down--a
scene which Satan paid no attention to until the small noise of the
weeping and praying began to annoy him, then he reached out and took the
heavy board seat out of our swing and brought it down and mashed all
those people into the earth just as if they had been flies, and went on
talking just the same.

An angel, and kill a priest! An angel who did not know how to do wrong,
and yet destroys in cold blood hundreds of helpless poor men and women
who had never done him any harm! It made us sick to see that awful deed,
and to think that none of those poor creatures was prepared except the
priest, for none of them had ever heard a mass or seen a church. And we
were witnesses; we had seen these murders done and it was our duty to
tell, and let the law take its course.

But he went on talking right along, and worked his enchantments upon us
again with that fatal music of his voice. He made us forget everything;
we could only listen to him, and love him, and be his slaves, to do with
us as he would. He made us drunk with the joy of being with him, and of
looking into the heaven of his eyes, and of feeling the ecstasy that
thrilled along our veins from the touch of his hand.

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