Edward Mills and George Benton, A Tale
by Mark Twain
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
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
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.