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Mark Twain > Edward Mills And George Benton: A Tale > Story

Edward Mills And George Benton: A Tale


These two were distantly related to each other--seventh cousins,
or something of that sort. While still babies they became orphans,
and were adopted by the Brants, a childless couple, who quickly
grew very fond of them. The Brants were always saying: "Be pure,
honest, sober, industrious, and considerate of others, and success
in life is assured." The children heard this repeated some thousands
of times before they understood it; they could repeat it themselves
long before they could say the Lord's Prayer; it was painted over
the nursery door, and was about the first thing they learned to read.
It was destined to be the unswerving rule of Edward Mills's life.
Sometimes the Brants changed the wording a little, and said:
"Be pure, honest, sober, industrious, considerate, and you will never
lack friends."

Baby Mills was a comfort to everybody about him. When he wanted
candy and could not have it, he listened to reason, and contented
himself without it. When Baby Benton wanted candy, he cried for it
until he got it. Baby Mills took care of his toys; Baby Benton
always destroyed his in a very brief time, and then made himself
so insistently disagreeable that, in order to have peace in the house,
little Edward was persuaded to yield up his play-things to him.

When the children were a little older, Georgie became a heavy expense
in one respect: he took no care of his clothes; consequently, he
shone frequently in new ones, with was not the case with Eddie.
The boys grew apace. Eddie was an increasing comfort, Georgie an
increasing solicitude. It was always sufficient to say, in answer
to Eddie's petitions, "I would rather you would not do it"--
meaning swimming, skating, picnicking, berrying, circusing,
and all sorts of things which boys delight in. But NO answer
was sufficient for Georgie; he had to be humored in his desires,
or he would carry them with a high hand. Naturally, no boy got
more swimming skating, berrying, and so forth than he; no body
ever had a better time. The good Brants did not allow the boys
to play out after nine in summer evenings; they were sent to bed
at that hour; Eddie honorably remained, but Georgie usually slipped
out of the window toward ten, and enjoyed himself until midnight.
It seemed impossible to break Georgie of this bad habit, but the
Brants managed it at last by hiring him, with apples and marbles,
to stay in. The good Brants gave all their time and attention
to vain endeavors to regulate Georgie; they said, with grateful
tears in their eyes, that Eddie needed no efforts of theirs,
he was so good, so considerate, and in all ways so perfect.

By and by the boys were big enough to work, so they were apprenticed
to a trade: Edward went voluntarily; George was coaxed and bribed.
Edward worked hard and faithfully, and ceased to be an expense to the
good Brants; they praised him, so did his master; but George ran away,
and it cost Mr. Brant both money and trouble to hunt him up and get
him back. By and by he ran away again--more money and more trouble.
He ran away a third time--and stole a few things to carry with him.
Trouble and expense for Mr. Brant once more; and, besides, it was with
the greatest difficulty that he succeeded in persuading the master
to let the youth go unprosecuted for the theft.

Edward worked steadily along, and in time became a full partner
in his master's business. George did not improve; he kept the loving
hearts of his aged benefactors full of trouble, and their hands full
of inventive activities to protect him from ruin. Edward, as a boy,
had interested himself in Sunday-schools, debating societies,
penny missionary affairs, anti-tobacco organizations, anti-profanity
associations, and all such things; as a man, he was a quiet but
steady and reliable helper in the church, the temperance societies,
and in all movements looking to the aiding and uplifting of men. This
excited no remark, attracted no attention--for it was his "natural bent."

Finally, the old people died. The will testified their loving
pride in Edward, and left their little property to George--
because he "needed it"; whereas, "owing to a bountiful Providence,"
such was not the case with Edward. The property was left to
George conditionally: he must buy out Edward's partner with it;
else it must go to a benevolent organization called the Prisoner's
Friend Society. The old people left a letter, in which they begged
their dear son Edward to take their place and watch over George,
and help and shield him as they had done.

Edward dutifully acquiesced, and George became his partner in
the business. He was not a valuable partner: he had been meddling
with drink before; he soon developed into a constant tippler now,
and his flesh and eyes showed the fact unpleasantly. Edward had
been courting a sweet and kindly spirited girl for some time.
They loved each other dearly, and--But about this period George began
to haunt her tearfully and imploringly, and at last she went crying
to Edward, and said her high and holy duty was plain before her--
she must not let her own selfish desires interfere with it:
she must marry "poor George" and "reform him." It would break
her heart, she knew it would, and so on; but duty was duty.
So she married George, and Edward's heart came very near breaking,
as well as her own. However, Edward recovered, and married another girl--
a very excellent one she was, too.

Children came to both families. Mary did her honest best to reform
her husband, but the contract was too large. George went on drinking,
and by and by he fell to misusing her and the little ones sadly.
A great many good people strove with George--they were always at it,
in fact--but he calmly took such efforts as his due and their duty,
and did not mend his ways. He added a vice, presently--that of
secret gambling. He got deeply in debt; he borrowed money on the
firm's credit, as quietly as he could, and carried this system so far
and so successfully that one morning the sheriff took possession of
the establishment, and the two cousins found themselves penniless.

Times were hard, now, and they grew worse. Edward moved his family
into a garret, and walked the streets day and night, seeking work.
He begged for it, but it was really not to be had. He was astonished
to see how soon his face became unwelcome; he was astonished
and hurt to see how quickly the ancient interest which people had
had in him faded out and disappeared. Still, he MUST get work;
so he swallowed his chagrin, and toiled on in search of it.
At last he got a job of carrying bricks up a ladder in a hod,
and was a grateful man in consequence; but after that NOBODY knew
him or cared anything about him. He was not able to keep up
his dues in the various moral organizations to which he belonged,
and had to endure the sharp pain of seeing himself brought under
the disgrace of suspension.

But the faster Edward died out of public knowledge and interest,
the faster George rose in them. He was found lying, ragged and drunk,
in the gutter one morning. A member of the Ladies' Temperance Refuge
fished him out, took him in hand, got up a subscription for him,
kept him sober a whole week, then got a situation for him.
An account of it was published.

General attention was thus drawn to the poor fellow, and a great
many people came forward and helped him toward reform with their
countenance and encouragement. He did not drink a drop for two months,
and meantime was the pet of the good. Then he fell--in the gutter;
and there was general sorrow and lamentation. But the noble
sisterhood rescued him again. They cleaned him up, they fed him,
they listened to the mournful music of his repentances, they got
him his situation again. An account of this, also, was published,
and the town was drowned in happy tears over the re-restoration
of the poor beast and struggling victim of the fatal bowl.
A grand temperance revival was got up, and after some rousing
speeches had been made the chairman said, impressively: "We are
not about to call for signers; and I think there is a spectacle
in store for you which not many in this house will be able to view
with dry eyes." There was an eloquent pause, and then George Benton,
escorted by a red-sashed detachment of the Ladies of the Refuge,
stepped forward upon the platform and signed the pledge. The air
was rent with applause, and everybody cried for joy. Everybody wrung
the hand of the new convert when the meeting was over; his salary
was enlarged next day; he was the talk of the town, and its hero.
An account of it was published.

George Benton fell, regularly, every three months, but was faithfully
rescued and wrought with, every time, and good situations were
found for him. Finally, he was taken around the country lecturing,
as a reformed drunkard, and he had great houses and did an immense
amount of good.

He was so popular at home, and so trusted--during his sober intervals--
that he was enabled to use the name of a principal citizen, and get
a large sum of money at the bank. A mighty pressure was brought
to bear to save him from the consequences of his forgery, and it
was partially successful--he was "sent up" for only two years.
When, at the end of a year, the tireless efforts of the benevolent
were crowned with success, and he emerged from the penitentiary
with a pardon in his pocket, the Prisoner's Friend Society met him
at the door with a situation and a comfortable salary, and all
the other benevolent people came forward and gave him advice,
encouragement and help. Edward Mills had once applied to the Prisoner's
Friend Society for a situation, when in dire need, but the question,
"Have you been a prisoner?" made brief work of his case.

While all these things were going on, Edward Mills had been
quietly making head against adversity. He was still poor, but was
in receipt of a steady and sufficient salary, as the respected
and trusted cashier of a bank. George Benton never came near him,
and was never heard to inquire about him. George got to indulging
in long absences from the town; there were ill reports about him,
but nothing definite.

One winter's night some masked burglars forced their way into the bank,
and found Edward Mills there alone. They commanded him to reveal
the "combination," so that they could get into the safe. He refused.
They threatened his life. He said his employers trusted him,
and he could not be traitor to that trust. He could die, if he must,
but while he lived he would be faithful; he would not yield up
the "combination." The burglars killed him.

The detectives hunted down the criminals; the chief one proved
to be George Benton. A wide sympathy was felt for the widow and
orphans of the dead man, and all the newspapers in the land begged
that all the banks in the land would testify their appreciation
of the fidelity and heroism of the murdered cashier by coming
forward with a generous contribution of money in aid of his family,
now bereft of support. The result was a mass of solid cash amounting
to upward of five hundred dollars--an average of nearly three-eights
of a cent for each bank in the Union. The cashier's own bank
testified its gratitude by endeavoring to show (but humiliatingly
failed in it) that the peerless servant's accounts were not square,
and that he himself had knocked his brains out with a bludgeon
to escape detection and punishment.

George Benton was arraigned for trial. Then everybody seemed to
forget the widow and orphans in their solicitude for poor George.
Everything that money and influence could do was done to save him,
but it all failed; he was sentenced to death. Straightway the
Governor was besieged with petitions for commutation or pardon;
they were brought by tearful young girls; by sorrowful old maids;
by deputations of pathetic widows; by shoals of impressive orphans.
But no, the Governor--for once--would not yield.

Now George Benton experienced religion. The glad news flew all around.
From that time forth his cell was always full of girls and women and
fresh flowers; all the day long there was prayer, and hymn-singing,
and thanksgiving, and homilies, and tears, with never an interruption,
except an occasional five-minute intermission for refreshments.

This sort of thing continued up to the very gallows, and George
Benton went proudly home, in the black cap, before a wailing
audience of the sweetest and best that the region could produce.
His grave had fresh flowers on it every day, for a while,
and the head-stone bore these words, under a hand pointing aloft:
"He has fought the good fight."

The brave cashier's head-stone has this inscription: "Be pure,
honest, sober, industrious, considerate, and you will never--"

Nobody knows who gave the order to leave it that way, but it was
so given.

The cashier's family are in stringent circumstances, now, it is said;
but no matter; a lot of appreciative people, who were not willing
that an act so brave and true as his should go unrewarded,
have collected forty-two thousand dollars--and built a Memorial
Church with it.

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