THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
by Mark Twain
Note: "The Mysterious Stranger" was written in 1898 and
never finished. The editors of Twain's "Collected Works"
completed the story prior to publication. At what point in
this work Twain left off and where the editor's began
is not made clear in the print copy used as the basis of
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
HUNTING THE DECEITFUL TURKEY
THE McWILLIAMSES AND THE BURGLAR ALARM
THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
It was in 1590—winter. Austria was far away from the world, and
asleep; it was still the Middle Ages in Austria, and promised to remain so
forever. Some even set it away back centuries upon centuries and said that
by the mental and spiritual clock it was still the Age of Belief in
Austria. But they meant it as a compliment, not a slur, and it was so
taken, and we were all proud of it. I remember it well, although I was
only a boy; and I remember, too, the pleasure it gave me.
Yes, Austria was far from the world, and asleep, and our village was in
the middle of that sleep, being in the middle of Austria. It drowsed in
peace in the deep privacy of a hilly and woodsy solitude where news from
the world hardly ever came to disturb its dreams, and was infinitely
content. At its front flowed the tranquil river, its surface painted with
cloud-forms and the reflections of drifting arks and stone-boats; behind
it rose the woody steeps to the base of the lofty precipice; from the top
of the precipice frowned a vast castle, its long stretch of towers and
bastions mailed in vines; beyond the river, a league to the left, was a
tumbled expanse of forest-clothed hills cloven by winding gorges where the
sun never penetrated; and to the right a precipice overlooked the river,
and between it and the hills just spoken of lay a far-reaching plain
dotted with little homesteads nested among orchards and shade trees.
The whole region for leagues around was the hereditary property of a
prince, whose servants kept the castle always in perfect condition for
occupancy, but neither he nor his family came there oftener than once in
five years. When they came it was as if the lord of the world had arrived,
and had brought all the glories of its kingdoms along; and when they went
they left a calm behind which was like the deep sleep which follows an
Eseldorf was a paradise for us boys. We were not overmuch pestered with
schooling. Mainly we were trained to be good Christians; to revere the
Virgin, the Church, and the saints above everything. Beyond these matters
we were not required to know much; and, in fact, not allowed to. Knowledge
was not good for the common people, and could make them discontented with
the lot which God had appointed for them, and God would not endure
discontentment with His plans. We had two priests. One of them, Father
Adolf, was a very zealous and strenuous priest, much considered.
There may have been better priests, in some ways, than Father Adolf, but
there was never one in our commune who was held in more solemn and awful
respect. This was because he had absolutely no fear of the Devil. He was
the only Christian I have ever known of whom that could be truly said.
People stood in deep dread of him on that account; for they thought that
there must be something supernatural about him, else he could not be so
bold and so confident. All men speak in bitter disapproval of the Devil,
but they do it reverently, not flippantly; but Father Adolf's way was very
different; he called him by every name he could lay his tongue to, and it
made everyone shudder that heard him; and often he would even speak of him
scornfully and scoffingly; then the people crossed themselves and went
quickly out of his presence, fearing that something fearful might happen.
Father Adolf had actually met Satan face to face more than once, and
defied him. This was known to be so. Father Adolf said it himself. He
never made any secret of it, but spoke it right out. And that he was
speaking true there was proof in at least one instance, for on that
occasion he quarreled with the enemy, and intrepidly threw his bottle at
him; and there, upon the wall of his study, was the ruddy splotch where it
struck and broke. But it was Father Peter, the other priest, that we all
loved best and were sorriest for. Some people charged him with talking
around in conversation that God was all goodness and would find a way to
save all his poor human children. It was a horrible thing to say, but
there was never any absolute proof that Father Peter said it; and it was
out of character for him to say it, too, for he was always good and gentle
and truthful. He wasn't charged with saying it in the pulpit, where all
the congregation could hear and testify, but only outside, in talk; and it
is easy for enemies to manufacture that. Father Peter had an enemy and a
very powerful one, the astrologer who lived in a tumbled old tower up the
valley, and put in his nights studying the stars. Every one knew he could
foretell wars and famines, though that was not so hard, for there was
always a war, and generally a famine somewhere. But he could also read any
man's life through the stars in a big book he had, and find lost property,
and every one in the village except Father Peter stood in awe of him. Even
Father Adolf, who had defied the Devil, had a wholesome respect for the
astrologer when he came through our village wearing his tall, pointed hat
and his long, flowing robe with stars on it, carrying his big book, and a
staff which was known to have magic power. The bishop himself sometimes
listened to the astrologer, it was said, for, besides studying the stars
and prophesying, the astrologer made a great show of piety, which would
impress the bishop, of course.
But Father Peter took no stock in the astrologer. He denounced him openly
as a charlatan—a fraud with no valuable knowledge of any kind, or
powers beyond those of an ordinary and rather inferior human being, which
naturally made the astrologer hate Father Peter and wish to ruin him. It
was the astrologer, as we all believed, who originated the story about
Father Peter's shocking remark and carried it to the bishop. It was said
that Father Peter had made the remark to his niece, Marget, though Marget
denied it and implored the bishop to believe her and spare her old uncle
from poverty and disgrace. But the bishop wouldn't listen. He suspended
Father Peter indefinitely, though he wouldn't go so far as to
excommunicate him on the evidence of only one witness; and now Father
Peter had been out a couple of years, and our other priest, Father Adolf,
had his flock.
Those had been hard years for the old priest and Marget. They had been
favorites, but of course that changed when they came under the shadow of
the bishop's frown. Many of their friends fell away entirely, and the rest
became cool and distant. Marget was a lovely girl of eighteen when the
trouble came, and she had the best head in the village, and the most in
it. She taught the harp, and earned all her clothes and pocket money by
her own industry. But her scholars fell off one by one now; she was
forgotten when there were dances and parties among the youth of the
village; the young fellows stopped coming to the house, all except Wilhelm
Meidling—and he could have been spared; she and her uncle were sad
and forlorn in their neglect and disgrace, and the sunshine was gone out
of their lives. Matters went worse and worse, all through the two years.
Clothes were wearing out, bread was harder and harder to get. And now, at
last, the very end was come. Solomon Isaacs had lent all the money he was
willing to put on the house, and gave notice that to-morrow he would
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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."
"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 system 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.
The Stranger had seen everything, he had been everywhere, he knew
everything, and he forgot nothing. What another must study, he learned at
a glance; there were no difficulties for him. And he made things live
before you when he told about them. He saw the world made; he saw Adam
created; he saw Samson surge against the pillars and bring the temple down
in ruins about him; he saw Caesar's death; he told of the daily life in
heaven; he had seen the damned writhing in the red waves of hell; and he
made us see all these things, and it was as if we were on the spot and
looking at them with our own eyes. And we felt them, too, but there was no
sign that they were anything to him beyond mere entertainments. Those
visions of hell, those poor babes and women and girls and lads and men
shrieking and supplicating in anguish—why, we could hardly bear it,
but he was as bland about it as if it had been so many imitation rats in
an artificial fire.
And always when he was talking about men and women here on the earth and
their doings—even their grandest and sublimest—we were
secretly ashamed, for his manner showed that to him they and their doings
were of paltry poor consequence; often you would think he was talking
about flies, if you didn't know. Once he even said, in so many words, that
our people down here were quite interesting to him, notwithstanding they
were so dull and ignorant and trivial and conceited, and so diseased and
rickety, and such a shabby, poor, worthless lot all around. He said it in
a quite matter-of-course way and without bitterness, just as a person
might talk about bricks or manure or any other thing that was of no
consequence and hadn't feelings. I could see he meant no offense, but in
my thoughts I set it down as not very good manners.
"Manners!" he said. "Why, it is merely the truth, and truth is good
manners; manners are a fiction. The castle is done. Do you like it?"
Any one would have been obliged to like it. It was lovely to look at, it
was so shapely and fine, and so cunningly perfect in all its particulars,
even to the little flags waving from the turrets. Satan said we must put
the artillery in place now, and station the halberdiers and display the
cavalry. Our men and horses were a spectacle to see, they were so little
like what they were intended for; for, of course, we had no art in making
such things. Satan said they were the worst he had seen; and when he
touched them and made them alive, it was just ridiculous the way they
acted, on account of their legs not being of uniform lengths. They reeled
and sprawled around as if they were drunk, and endangered everybody's
lives around them, and finally fell over and lay helpless and kicking. It
made us all laugh, though it was a shameful thing to see. The guns were
charged with dirt, to fire a salute, but they were so crooked and so badly
made that they all burst when they went off, and killed some of the
gunners and crippled the others. Satan said we would have a storm now, and
an earthquake, if we liked, but we must stand off a piece, out of danger.
We wanted to call the people away, too, but he said never mind them; they
were of no consequence, and we could make more, some time or other, if we
A small storm-cloud began to settle down black over the castle, and the
miniature lightning and thunder began to play, and the ground to quiver,
and the wind to pipe and wheeze, and the rain to fall, and all the people
flocked into the castle for shelter. The cloud settled down blacker and
blacker, and one could see the castle only dimly through it; the lightning
blazed out flash upon flash and pierced the castle and set it on fire, and
the flames shone out red and fierce through the cloud, and the people came
flying out, shrieking, but Satan brushed them back, paying no attention to
our begging and crying and imploring; and in the midst of the howling of
the wind and volleying of the thunder the magazine blew up, the earthquake
rent the ground wide, and the castle's wreck and ruin tumbled into the
chasm, which swallowed it from sight, and closed upon it, with all that
innocent life, not one of the five hundred poor creatures escaping. Our
hearts were broken; we could not keep from crying.
"Don't cry," Satan said; "they were of no value."
"But they are gone to hell!"
"Oh, it is no matter; we can make plenty more."
It was of no use to try to move him; evidently he was wholly without
feelings, and could not understand. He was full of bubbling spirits, and
as gay as if this were a wedding instead of a fiendish massacre. And he
was bent on making us feel as he did, and of course his magic accomplished
his desire. It was no trouble to him; he did whatever he pleased with us.
In a little while we were dancing on that grave, and he was playing to us
on a strange, sweet instrument which he took out of his pocket; and the
music—but there is no music like that, unless perhaps in heaven, and
that was where he brought it from, he said. It made one mad, for pleasure;
and we could not take our eyes from him, and the looks that went out of
our eyes came from our hearts, and their dumb speech was worship. He
brought the dance from heaven, too, and the bliss of paradise was in it.
Presently he said he must go away on an errand. But we could not bear the
thought of it, and clung to him, and pleaded with him to stay; and that
pleased him, and he said so, and said he would not go yet, but would wait
a little while and we would sit down and talk a few minutes longer; and he
told us Satan was only his real name, and he was to be known by it to us
alone, but he had chosen another one to be called by in the presence of
others; just a common one, such as people have—Philip Traum.
It sounded so odd and mean for such a being! But it was his decision, and
we said nothing; his decision was sufficient.
We had seen wonders this day; and my thoughts began to run on the pleasure
it would be to tell them when I got home, but he noticed those thoughts,
"No, all these matters are a secret among us four. I do not mind your
trying to tell them, if you like, but I will protect your tongues, and
nothing of the secret will escape from them."
It was a disappointment, but it couldn't be helped, and it cost us a sigh
or two. We talked pleasantly along, and he was always reading our thoughts
and responding to them, and it seemed to me that this was the most
wonderful of all the things he did, but he interrupted my musings and
"No, it would be wonderful for you, but it is not wonderful for me. I am
not limited like you. I am not subject to human conditions. I can measure
and understand your human weaknesses, for I have studied them; but I have
none of them. My flesh is not real, although it would seem firm to your
touch; my clothes are not real; I am a spirit. Father Peter is coming." We
looked around, but did not see any one. "He is not in sight yet, but you
will see him presently."
"Do you know him, Satan?"
"Won't you talk with him when he comes? He is not ignorant and dull, like
us, and he would so like to talk with you. Will you?"
"Another time, yes, but not now. I must go on my errand after a little.
There he is now; you can see him. Sit still, and don't say anything."
We looked up and saw Father Peter approaching through the chestnuts. We
three were sitting together in the grass, and Satan sat in front of us in
the path. Father Peter came slowly along with his head down, thinking, and
stopped within a couple of yards of us and took off his hat and got out
his silk handkerchief, and stood there mopping his face and looking as if
he were going to speak to us, but he didn't. Presently he muttered, "I
can't think what brought me here; it seems as if I were in my study a
minute ago—but I suppose I have been dreaming along for an hour and
have come all this stretch without noticing; for I am not myself in these
troubled days." Then he went mumbling along to himself and walked straight
through Satan, just as if nothing were there. It made us catch our breath
to see it. We had the impulse to cry out, the way you nearly always do
when a startling thing happens, but something mysteriously restrained us
and we remained quiet, only breathing fast. Then the trees hid Father
Peter after a little, and Satan said:
"It is as I told you—I am only a spirit."
"Yes, one perceives it now," said Nikolaus, "but we are not spirits. It is
plain he did not see you, but were we invisible, too? He looked at us, but
he didn't seem to see us."
"No, none of us was visible to him, for I wished it so."
It seemed almost too good to be true, that we were actually seeing these
romantic and wonderful things, and that it was not a dream. And there he
sat, looking just like anybody—so natural and simple and charming,
and chatting along again the same as ever, and—well, words cannot
make you understand what we felt. It was an ecstasy; and an ecstasy is a
thing that will not go into words; it feels like music, and one cannot
tell about music so that another person can get the feeling of it. He was
back in the old ages once more now, and making them live before us. He had
seen so much, so much! It was just a wonder to look at him and try to
think how it must seem to have such experience behind one.
But it made you seem sorrowfully trivial, and the creature of a day, and
such a short and paltry day, too. And he didn't say anything to raise up
your drooping pride—no, not a word. He always spoke of men in the
same old indifferent way—just as one speaks of bricks and
manure-piles and such things; you could see that they were of no
consequence to him, one way or the other. He didn't mean to hurt us, you
could see that; just as we don't mean to insult a brick when we disparage
it; a brick's emotions are nothing to us; it never occurs to us to think
whether it has any or not.
Once when he was bunching the most illustrious kings and conquerors and
poets and prophets and pirates and beggars together—just a
brick-pile—I was shamed into putting in a word for man, and asked
him why he made so much difference between men and himself. He had to
struggle with that a moment; he didn't seem to understand how I could ask
such a strange question. Then he said:
"The difference between man and me? The difference between a mortal and an
immortal? between a cloud and a spirit?" He picked up a wood-louse that
was creeping along a piece of bark: "What is the difference between Caesar
I said, "One cannot compare things which by their nature and by the
interval between them are not comparable."
"You have answered your own question," he said. "I will expand it. Man is
made of dirt—I saw him made. I am not made of dirt. Man is a museum
of diseases, a home of impurities; he comes to-day and is gone to-morrow;
he begins as dirt and departs as stench; I am of the aristocracy of the
Imperishables. And man has the Moral Sense. You understand? He has the
moral Sense. That would seem to be difference enough between us, all by
He stopped there, as if that settled the matter. I was sorry, for at that
time I had but a dim idea of what the Moral Sense was. I merely knew that
we were proud of having it, and when he talked like that about it, it
wounded me, and I felt as a girl feels who thinks her dearest finery is
being admired and then overhears strangers making fun of it. For a while
we were all silent, and I, for one, was depressed. Then Satan began to
chat again, and soon he was sparkling along in such a cheerful and
vivacious vein that my spirits rose once more. He told some very cunning
things that put us in a gale of laughter; and when he was telling about
the time that Samson tied the torches to the foxes' tails and set them
loose in the Philistines' corn, and Samson sitting on the fence slapping
his thighs and laughing, with the tears running down his cheeks, and lost
his balance and fell off the fence, the memory of that picture got him to
laughing, too, and we did have a most lovely and jolly time. By and by he
"I am going on my errand now."
"Don't!" we all said. "Don't go; stay with us. You won't come back."
"Yes, I will; I give you my word."
"When? To-night? Say when."
"It won't be long. You will see."
"We like you."
"And I you. And as a proof of it I will show you something fine to see.
Usually when I go I merely vanish; but now I will dissolve myself and let
you see me do it."
He stood up, and it was quickly finished. He thinned away and thinned away
until he was a soap-bubble, except that he kept his shape. You could see
the bushes through him as clearly as you see things through a soap-bubble,
and all over him played and flashed the delicate iridescent colors of the
bubble, and along with them was that thing shaped like a window-sash which
you always see on the globe of the bubble. You have seen a bubble strike
the carpet and lightly bound along two or three times before it bursts. He
did that. He sprang—touched the grass—bounded—floated
along—touched again—and so on, and presently exploded—puff!
and in his place was vacancy.
It was a strange and beautiful thing to see. We did not say anything, but
sat wondering and dreaming and blinking; and finally Seppi roused up and
said, mournfully sighing:
"I suppose none of it has happened."
Nikolaus sighed and said about the same.
I was miserable to hear them say it, for it was the same cold fear that
was in my own mind. Then we saw poor old Father Peter wandering along
back, with his head bent down, searching the ground. When he was pretty
close to us he looked up and saw us, and said, "How long have you been
"A little while, Father."
"Then it is since I came by, and maybe you can help me. Did you come up by
"That is good. I came the same way. I have lost my wallet. There wasn't
much in it, but a very little is much to me, for it was all I had. I
suppose you haven't seen anything of it?"
"No, Father, but we will help you hunt."
"It is what I was going to ask you. Why, here it is!"
We hadn't noticed it; yet there it lay, right where Satan stood when he
began to melt—if he did melt and it wasn't a delusion. Father Peter
picked it up and looked very much surprised.
"It is mine," he said, "but not the contents. This is fat; mine was flat;
mine was light; this is heavy." He opened it; it was stuffed as full as it
could hold with gold coins. He let us gaze our fill; and of course we did
gaze, for we had never seen so much money at one time before. All our
mouths came open to say "Satan did it!" but nothing came out. There it
was, you see—we couldn't tell what Satan didn't want told; he had
said so himself.
"Boys, did you do this?"
It made us laugh. And it made him laugh, too, as soon as he thought what a
foolish question it was.
"Who has been here?"
Our mouths came open to answer, but stood so for a moment, because we
couldn't say "Nobody," for it wouldn't be true, and the right word didn't
seem to come; then I thought of the right one, and said it:
"Not a human being."
"That is so," said the others, and let their mouths go shut.
"It is not so," said Father Peter, and looked at us very severely. "I came
by here a while ago, and there was no one here, but that is nothing; some
one has been here since. I don't mean to say that the person didn't pass
here before you came, and I don't mean to say you saw him, but some one
did pass, that I know. On your honor—you saw no one?"
"Not a human being."
"That is sufficient; I know you are telling me the truth."
He began to count the money on the path, we on our knees eagerly helping
to stack it in little piles.
"It's eleven hundred ducats odd!" he said. "Oh dear! if it were only mine—and
I need it so!" and his voice broke and his lips quivered.
"It is yours, sir!" we all cried out at once, "every heller!"
"No—it isn't mine. Only four ducats are mine; the rest...!" He fell
to dreaming, poor old soul, and caressing some of the coins in his hands,
and forgot where he was, sitting there on his heels with his old gray head
bare; it was pitiful to see. "No," he said, waking up, "it isn't mine. I
can't account for it. I think some enemy... it must be a trap."
Nikolaus said: "Father Peter, with the exception of the astrologer you
haven't a real enemy in the village—nor Marget, either. And not even
a half-enemy that's rich enough to chance eleven hundred ducats to do you
a mean turn. I'll ask you if that's so or not?"
He couldn't get around that argument, and it cheered him up. "But it isn't
mine, you see—it isn't mine, in any case."
He said it in a wistful way, like a person that wouldn't be sorry, but
glad, if anybody would contradict him.
"It is yours, Father Peter, and we are witness to it. Aren't we, boys?"
"Yes, we are—and we'll stand by it, too."
"Bless your hearts, you do almost persuade me; you do, indeed. If I had
only a hundred-odd ducats of it! The house is mortgaged for it, and we've
no home for our heads if we don't pay to-morrow. And that four ducats is
all we've got in the—"
"It's yours, every bit of it, and you've got to take it—we are bail
that it's all right. Aren't we, Theodor? Aren't we, Seppi?"
We two said yes, and Nikolaus stuffed the money back into the shabby old
wallet and made the owner take it. So he said he would use two hundred of
it, for his house was good enough security for that, and would put the
rest at interest till the rightful owner came for it; and on our side we
must sign a paper showing how he got the money—a paper to show to
the villagers as proof that he had not got out of his troubles
It made immense talk next day, when Father Peter paid Solomon Isaacs in
gold and left the rest of the money with him at interest. Also, there was
a pleasant change; many people called at the house to congratulate him,
and a number of cool old friends became kind and friendly again; and, to
top all, Marget was invited to a party.
And there was no mystery; Father Peter told the whole circumstance just as
it happened, and said he could not account for it, only it was the plain
hand of Providence, so far as he could see.
One or two shook their heads and said privately it looked more like the
hand of Satan; and really that seemed a surprisingly good guess for
ignorant people like that. Some came slyly buzzing around and tried to
coax us boys to come out and "tell the truth;" and promised they wouldn't
ever tell, but only wanted to know for their own satisfaction, because the
whole thing was so curious. They even wanted to buy the secret, and pay
money for it; and if we could have invented something that would answer—but
we couldn't; we hadn't the ingenuity, so we had to let the chance go by,
and it was a pity.
We carried that secret around without any trouble, but the other one, the
big one, the splendid one, burned the very vitals of us, it was so hot to
get out and we so hot to let it out and astonish people with it. But we
had to keep it in; in fact, it kept itself in. Satan said it would, and it
did. We went off every day and got to ourselves in the woods so that we
could talk about Satan, and really that was the only subject we thought of
or cared anything about; and day and night we watched for him and hoped he
would come, and we got more and more impatient all the time. We hadn't any
interest in the other boys any more, and wouldn't take part in their games
and enterprises. They seemed so tame, after Satan; and their doings so
trifling and commonplace after his adventures in antiquity and the
constellations, and his miracles and meltings and explosions, and all
During the first day we were in a state of anxiety on account of one
thing, and we kept going to Father Peter's house on one pretext or another
to keep track of it. That was the gold coin; we were afraid it would
crumble and turn to dust, like fairy money. If it did—But it didn't.
At the end of the day no complaint had been made about it, so after that
we were satisfied that it was real gold, and dropped the anxiety out of
There was a question which we wanted to ask Father Peter, and finally we
went there the second evening, a little diffidently, after drawing straws,
and I asked it as casually as I could, though it did not sound as casual
as I wanted, because I didn't know how:
"What is the Moral Sense, sir?"
He looked down, surprised, over his great spectacles, and said, "Why, it
is the faculty which enables us to distinguish good from evil."
It threw some light, but not a glare, and I was a little disappointed,
also to some degree embarrassed. He was waiting for me to go on, so, in
default of anything else to say, I asked, "Is it valuable?"
"Valuable? Heavens! lad, it is the one thing that lifts man above the
beasts that perish and makes him heir to immortality!"
This did not remind me of anything further to say, so I got out, with the
other boys, and we went away with that indefinite sense you have often had
of being filled but not fatted. They wanted me to explain, but I was
We passed out through the parlor, and there was Marget at the spinnet
teaching Marie Lueger. So one of the deserting pupils was back; and an
influential one, too; the others would follow. Marget jumped up and ran
and thanked us again, with tears in her eyes—this was the third time—for
saving her and her uncle from being turned into the street, and we told
her again we hadn't done it; but that was her way, she never could be
grateful enough for anything a person did for her; so we let her have her
say. And as we passed through the garden, there was Wilhelm Meidling
sitting there waiting, for it was getting toward the edge of the evening,
and he would be asking Marget to take a walk along the river with him when
she was done with the lesson. He was a young lawyer, and succeeding fairly
well and working his way along, little by little. He was very fond of
Marget, and she of him. He had not deserted along with the others, but had
stood his ground all through. His faithfulness was not lost on Marget and
her uncle. He hadn't so very much talent, but he was handsome and good,
and these are a kind of talents themselves and help along. He asked us how
the lesson was getting along, and we told him it was about done. And maybe
it was so; we didn't know anything about it, but we judged it would please
him, and it did, and didn't cost us anything.
On the fourth day comes the astrologer from his crumbling old tower up the
valley, where he had heard the news, I reckon. He had a private talk with
us, and we told him what we could, for we were mightily in dread of him.
He sat there studying and studying awhile to himself; then he asked:
"How many ducats did you say?"
"Eleven hundred and seven, sir."
Then he said, as if he were talking to himself: "It is ver-y singular.
Yes... very strange. A curious coincidence." Then he began to ask
questions, and went over the whole ground from the beginning, we
answering. By and by he said: "Eleven hundred and six ducats. It is a
"Seven," said Seppi, correcting him.
"Oh, seven, was it? Of course a ducat more or less isn't of consequence,
but you said eleven hundred and six before."
It would not have been safe for us to say he was mistaken, but we knew he
was. Nikolaus said, "We ask pardon for the mistake, but we meant to say
"Oh, it is no matter, lad; it was merely that I noticed the discrepancy.
It is several days, and you cannot be expected to remember precisely. One
is apt to be inexact when there is no particular circumstance to impress
the count upon the memory."
"But there was one, sir," said Seppi, eagerly.
"What was it, my son?" asked the astrologer, indifferently.
"First, we all counted the piles of coin, each in turn, and all made it
the same—eleven hundred and six. But I had slipped one out, for fun,
when the count began, and now I slipped it back and said, 'I think there
is a mistake—there are eleven hundred and seven; let us count
again.' We did, and of course I was right. They were astonished; then I
told how it came about."
The astrologer asked us if this was so, and we said it was.
"That settles it," he said. "I know the thief now. Lads, the money was
Then he went away, leaving us very much troubled, and wondering what he
could mean. In about an hour we found out; for by that time it was all
over the village that Father Peter had been arrested for stealing a great
sum of money from the astrologer. Everybody's tongue was loose and going.
Many said it was not in Father Peter's character and must be a mistake;
but the others shook their heads and said misery and want could drive a
suffering man to almost anything. About one detail there were no
differences; all agreed that Father Peter's account of how the money came
into his hands was just about unbelievable—it had such an impossible
look. They said it might have come into the astrologer's hands in some
such way, but into Father Peter's, never! Our characters began to suffer
now. We were Father Peter's only witnesses; how much did he probably pay
us to back up his fantastic tale? People talked that kind of talk to us
pretty freely and frankly, and were full of scoffings when we begged them
to believe really we had told only the truth. Our parents were harder on
us than any one else. Our fathers said we were disgracing our families,
and they commanded us to purge ourselves of our lie, and there was no
limit to their anger when we continued to say we had spoken true. Our
mothers cried over us and begged us to give back our bribe and get back
our honest names and save our families from shame, and come out and
honorably confess. And at last we were so worried and harassed that we
tried to tell the whole thing, Satan and all—but no, it wouldn't
come out. We were hoping and longing all the time that Satan would come
and help us out of our trouble, but there was no sign of him.
Within an hour after the astrologer's talk with us, Father Peter was in
prison and the money sealed up and in the hands of the officers of the
law. The money was in a bag, and Solomon Isaacs said he had not touched it
since he had counted it; his oath was taken that it was the same money,
and that the amount was eleven hundred and seven ducats. Father Peter
claimed trial by the ecclesiastical court, but our other priest, Father
Adolf, said an ecclesiastical court hadn't jurisdiction over a suspended
priest. The bishop upheld him. That settled it; the case would go to trial
in the civil court. The court would not sit for some time to come. Wilhelm
Meidling would be Father Peter's lawyer and do the best he could, of
course, but he told us privately that a weak case on his side and all the
power and prejudice on the other made the outlook bad.
So Marget's new happiness died a quick death. No friends came to condole
with her, and none were expected; an unsigned note withdrew her invitation
to the party. There would be no scholars to take lessons. How could she
support herself? She could remain in the house, for the mortgage was paid
off, though the government and not poor Solomon Isaacs had the
mortgage-money in its grip for the present. Old Ursula, who was cook,
chambermaid, housekeeper, laundress, and everything else for Father Peter,
and had been Marget's nurse in earlier years, said God would provide. But
she said that from habit, for she was a good Christian. She meant to help
in the providing, to make sure, if she could find a way.
We boys wanted to go and see Marget and show friendliness for her, but our
parents were afraid of offending the community and wouldn't let us. The
astrologer was going around inflaming everybody against Father Peter, and
saying he was an abandoned thief and had stolen eleven hundred and seven
gold ducats from him. He said he knew he was a thief from that fact, for
it was exactly the sum he had lost and which Father Peter pretended he had
In the afternoon of the fourth day after the catastrophe old Ursula
appeared at our house and asked for some washing to do, and begged my
mother to keep this secret, to save Marget's pride, who would stop this
project if she found it out, yet Marget had not enough to eat and was
growing weak. Ursula was growing weak herself, and showed it; and she ate
of the food that was offered her like a starving person, but could not be
persuaded to carry any home, for Marget would not eat charity food. She
took some clothes down to the stream to wash them, but we saw from the
window that handling the bat was too much for her strength; so she was
called back and a trifle of money offered her, which she was afraid to
take lest Marget should suspect; then she took it, saying she would
explain that she found it in the road. To keep it from being a lie and
damning her soul, she got me to drop it while she watched; then she went
along by there and found it, and exclaimed with surprise and joy, and
picked it up and went her way. Like the rest of the village, she could
tell every-day lies fast enough and without taking any precautions against
fire and brimstone on their account; but this was a new kind of lie, and
it had a dangerous look because she hadn't had any practice in it. After a
week's practice it wouldn't have given her any trouble. It is the way we
I was in trouble, for how would Marget live? Ursula could not find a coin
in the road every day—perhaps not even a second one. And I was
ashamed, too, for not having been near Marget, and she so in need of
friends; but that was my parents' fault, not mine, and I couldn't help it.
I was walking along the path, feeling very down-hearted, when a most
cheery and tingling freshening-up sensation went rippling through me, and
I was too glad for any words, for I knew by that sign that Satan was by. I
had noticed it before. Next moment he was alongside of me and I was
telling him all my trouble and what had been happening to Marget and her
uncle. While we were talking we turned a curve and saw old Ursula resting
in the shade of a tree, and she had a lean stray kitten in her lap and was
petting it. I asked her where she got it, and she said it came out of the
woods and followed her; and she said it probably hadn't any mother or any
friends and she was going to take it home and take care of it. Satan said:
"I understand you are very poor. Why do you want to add another mouth to
feed? Why don't you give it to some rich person?"
Ursula bridled at this and said: "Perhaps you would like to have it. You
must be rich, with your fine clothes and quality airs." Then she sniffed
and said: "Give it to the rich—the idea! The rich don't care for
anybody but themselves; it's only the poor that have feeling for the poor,
and help them. The poor and God. God will provide for this kitten."
"What makes you think so?"
Ursula's eyes snapped with anger. "Because I know it!" she said. "Not a
sparrow falls to the ground without His seeing it."
"But it falls, just the same. What good is seeing it fall?"
Old Ursula's jaws worked, but she could not get any word out for the
moment, she was so horrified. When she got her tongue, she stormed out,
"Go about your business, you puppy, or I will take a stick to you!"
I could not speak, I was so scared. I knew that with his notions about the
human race Satan would consider it a matter of no consequence to strike
her dead, there being "plenty more"; but my tongue stood still, I could
give her no warning. But nothing happened; Satan remained tranquil—tranquil
and indifferent. I suppose he could not be insulted by Ursula any more
than the king could be insulted by a tumble-bug. The old woman jumped to
her feet when she made her remark, and did it as briskly as a young girl.
It had been many years since she had done the like of that. That was
Satan's influence; he was a fresh breeze to the weak and the sick,
wherever he came. His presence affected even the lean kitten, and it
skipped to the ground and began to chase a leaf. This surprised Ursula,
and she stood looking at the creature and nodding her head wonderingly,
her anger quite forgotten.
"What's come over it?" she said. "Awhile ago it could hardly walk."
"You have not seen a kitten of that breed before," said Satan.
Ursula was not proposing to be friendly with the mocking stranger, and she
gave him an ungentle look and retorted: "Who asked you to come here and
pester me, I'd like to know? And what do you know about what I've seen and
what I haven't seen?"
"You haven't seen a kitten with the hair-spines on its tongue pointing to
the front, have you?"
"No—nor you, either."
"Well, examine this one and see."
Ursula was become pretty spry, but the kitten was spryer, and she could
not catch it, and had to give it up. Then Satan said:
"Give it a name, and maybe it will come."
Ursula tried several names, but the kitten was not interested.
"Call it Agnes. Try that."
The creature answered to the name and came. Ursula examined its tongue.
"Upon my word, it's true!" she said. "I have not seen this kind of a cat
before. Is it yours?"
"Then how did you know its name so pat?"
"Because all cats of that breed are named Agnes; they will not answer to
Ursula was impressed. "It is the most wonderful thing!" Then a shadow of
trouble came into her face, for her superstitions were aroused, and she
reluctantly put the creature down, saying: "I suppose I must let it go; I
am not afraid—no, not exactly that, though the priest—well,
I've heard people—indeed, many people... And, besides, it is quite
well now and can take care of itself." She sighed, and turned to go,
murmuring: "It is such a pretty one, too, and would be such company—and
the house is so sad and lonesome these troubled days... Miss Marget so
mournful and just a shadow, and the old master shut up in jail."
"It seems a pity not to keep it," said Satan.
Ursula turned quickly—just as if she were hoping some one would
"Why?" she asked, wistfully.
"Because this breed brings luck."
"Does it? Is it true? Young man, do you know it to be true? How does it
"Well, it brings money, anyway."
Ursula looked disappointed. "Money? A cat bring money? The idea! You could
never sell it here; people do not buy cats here; one can't even give them
away." She turned to go.
"I don't mean sell it. I mean have an income from it. This kind is called
the Lucky Cat. Its owner finds four silver groschen in his pocket every
I saw the indignation rising in the old woman's face. She was insulted.
This boy was making fun of her. That was her thought. She thrust her hands
into her pockets and straightened up to give him a piece of her mind. Her
temper was all up, and hot. Her mouth came open and let out three words of
a bitter sentence,... then it fell silent, and the anger in her face
turned to surprise or wonder or fear, or something, and she slowly brought
out her hands from her pockets and opened them and held them so. In one
was my piece of money, in the other lay four silver groschen. She gazed a
little while, perhaps to see if the groschen would vanish away; then she
"It's true—it's true—and I'm ashamed and beg forgiveness, O
dear master and benefactor!" And she ran to Satan and kissed his hand,
over and over again, according to the Austrian custom.
In her heart she probably believed it was a witch-cat and an agent of the
Devil; but no matter, it was all the more certain to be able to keep its
contract and furnish a daily good living for the family, for in matters of
finance even the piousest of our peasants would have more confidence in an
arrangement with the Devil than with an archangel. Ursula started
homeward, with Agnes in her arms, and I said I wished I had her privilege
of seeing Marget.
Then I caught my breath, for we were there. There in the parlor, and
Marget standing looking at us, astonished. She was feeble and pale, but I
knew that those conditions would not last in Satan's atmosphere, and it
turned out so. I introduced Satan—that is, Philip Traum—and we
sat down and talked. There was no constraint. We were simple folk, in our
village, and when a stranger was a pleasant person we were soon friends.
Marget wondered how we got in without her hearing us. Traum said the door
was open, and we walked in and waited until she should turn around and
greet us. This was not true; no door was open; we entered through the
walls or the roof or down the chimney, or somehow; but no matter, what
Satan wished a person to believe, the person was sure to believe, and so
Marget was quite satisfied with that explanation. And then the main part
of her mind was on Traum, anyway; she couldn't keep her eyes off him, he
was so beautiful. That gratified me, and made me proud. I hoped he would
show off some, but he didn't. He seemed only interested in being friendly
and telling lies. He said he was an orphan. That made Marget pity him. The
water came into her eyes. He said he had never known his mamma; she passed
away while he was a young thing; and said his papa was in shattered
health, and had no property to speak of—in fact, none of any earthly
value—but he had an uncle in business down in the tropics, and he
was very well off and had a monopoly, and it was from this uncle that he
drew his support. The very mention of a kind uncle was enough to remind
Marget of her own, and her eyes filled again. She said she hoped their two
uncles would meet, some day. It made me shudder. Philip said he hoped so,
too; and that made me shudder again.
"Maybe they will," said Marget. "Does your uncle travel much?"
"Oh yes, he goes all about; he has business everywhere."
And so they went on chatting, and poor Marget forgot her sorrow for one
little while, anyway. It was probably the only really bright and cheery
hour she had known lately. I saw she liked Philip, and I knew she would.
And when he told her he was studying for the ministry I could see that she
liked him better than ever. And then, when he promised to get her admitted
to the jail so that she could see her uncle, that was the capstone. He
said he would give the guards a little present, and she must always go in
the evening after dark, and say nothing, "but just show this paper and
pass in, and show it again when you come out"—and he scribbled some
queer marks on the paper and gave it to her, and she was ever so thankful,
and right away was in a fever for the sun to go down; for in that old,
cruel time prisoners were not allowed to see their friends, and sometimes
they spent years in the jails without ever seeing a friendly face. I
judged that the marks on the paper were an enchantment, and that the
guards would not know what they were doing, nor have any memory of it
afterward; and that was indeed the way of it. Ursula put her head in at
the door now and said:
"Supper's ready, miss." Then she saw us and looked frightened, and
motioned me to come to her, which I did, and she asked if we had told
about the cat. I said no, and she was relieved, and said please don't; for
if Miss Marget knew, she would think it was an unholy cat and would send
for a priest and have its gifts all purified out of it, and then there
wouldn't be any more dividends. So I said we wouldn't tell, and she was
satisfied. Then I was beginning to say good-by to Marget, but Satan
interrupted and said, ever so politely—well, I don't remember just
the words, but anyway he as good as invited himself to supper, and me,
too. Of course Marget was miserably embarrassed, for she had no reason to
suppose there would be half enough for a sick bird. Ursula heard him, and
she came straight into the room, not a bit pleased. At first she was
astonished to see Marget looking so fresh and rosy, and said so; then she
spoke up in her native tongue, which was Bohemian, and said—as I
learned afterward—"Send him away, Miss Marget; there's not victuals
Before Marget could speak, Satan had the word, and was talking back to
Ursula in her own language—which was a surprise to her, and for her
mistress, too. He said, "Didn't I see you down the road awhile ago?"
"Ah, that pleases me; I see you remember me." He stepped to her and
whispered: "I told you it is a Lucky Cat. Don't be troubled; it will
That sponged the slate of Ursula's feelings clean of its anxieties, and a
deep, financial joy shone in her eyes. The cat's value was augmenting. It
was getting full time for Marget to take some sort of notice of Satan's
invitation, and she did it in the best way, the honest way that was
natural to her. She said she had little to offer, but that we were welcome
if we would share it with her.
We had supper in the kitchen, and Ursula waited at table. A small fish was
in the frying-pan, crisp and brown and tempting, and one could see that
Marget was not expecting such respectable food as this. Ursula brought it,
and Marget divided it between Satan and me, declining to take any of it
herself; and was beginning to say she did not care for fish to-day, but
she did not finish the remark. It was because she noticed that another
fish had appeared in the pan. She looked surprised, but did not say
anything. She probably meant to inquire of Ursula about this later. There
were other surprises: flesh and game and wines and fruits—things
which had been strangers in that house lately; but Marget made no
exclamations, and now even looked unsurprised, which was Satan's
influence, of course. Satan talked right along, and was entertaining, and
made the time pass pleasantly and cheerfully; and although he told a good
many lies, it was no harm in him, for he was only an angel and did not
know any better. They do not know right from wrong; I knew this, because I
remembered what he had said about it. He got on the good side of Ursula.
He praised her to Marget, confidentially, but speaking just loud enough
for Ursula to hear. He said she was a fine woman, and he hoped some day to
bring her and his uncle together. Very soon Ursula was mincing and
simpering around in a ridiculous girly way, and smoothing out her gown and
prinking at herself like a foolish old hen, and all the time pretending
she was not hearing what Satan was saying. I was ashamed, for it showed us
to be what Satan considered us, a silly race and trivial. Satan said his
uncle entertained a great deal, and to have a clever woman presiding over
the festivities would double the attractions of the place.
"But your uncle is a gentleman, isn't he?" asked Marget.
"Yes," said Satan indifferently; "some even call him a Prince, out of
compliment, but he is not bigoted; to him personal merit is everything,
My hand was hanging down by my chair; Agnes came along and licked it; by
this act a secret was revealed. I started to say, "It is all a mistake;
this is just a common, ordinary cat; the hair-needles on her tongue point
inward, not outward." But the words did not come, because they couldn't.
Satan smiled upon me, and I understood.
When it was dark Marget took food and wine and fruit, in a basket, and
hurried away to the jail, and Satan and I walked toward my home. I was
thinking to myself that I should like to see what the inside of the jail
was like; Satan overheard the thought, and the next moment we were in the
jail. We were in the torture-chamber, Satan said. The rack was there, and
the other instruments, and there was a smoky lantern or two hanging on the
walls and helping to make the place look dim and dreadful. There were
people there—and executioners—but as they took no notice of
us, it meant that we were invisible. A young man lay bound, and Satan said
he was suspected of being a heretic, and the executioners were about to
inquire into it. They asked the man to confess to the charge, and he said
he could not, for it was not true. Then they drove splinter after splinter
under his nails, and he shrieked with the pain. Satan was not disturbed,
but I could not endure it, and had to be whisked out of there. I was faint
and sick, but the fresh air revived me, and we walked toward my home. I
said it was a brutal thing.
"No, it was a human thing. You should not insult the brutes by such a
misuse of that word; they have not deserved it," and he went on talking
like that. "It is like your paltry race—always lying, always
claiming virtues which it hasn't got, always denying them to the higher
animals, which alone possess them. No brute ever does a cruel thing—that
is the monopoly of those with the Moral Sense. When a brute inflicts pain
he does it innocently; it is not wrong; for him there is no such thing as
wrong. And he does not inflict pain for the pleasure of inflicting it—only
man does that. Inspired by that mongrel Moral Sense of his! A sense whose
function is to distinguish between right and wrong, with liberty to choose
which of them he will do. Now what advantage can he get out of that? He is
always choosing, and in nine cases out of ten he prefers the wrong. There
shouldn't be any wrong; and without the Moral Sense there couldn't be any.
And yet he is such an unreasoning creature that he is not able to perceive
that the Moral Sense degrades him to the bottom layer of animated beings
and is a shameful possession. Are you feeling better? Let me show you
In a moment we were in a French village. We walked through a great factory
of some sort, where men and women and little children were toiling in heat
and dirt and a fog of dust; and they were clothed in rags, and drooped at
their work, for they were worn and half starved, and weak and drowsy.
"It is some more Moral Sense. The proprietors are rich, and very holy; but
the wage they pay to these poor brothers and sisters of theirs is only
enough to keep them from dropping dead with hunger. The work-hours are
fourteen per day, winter and summer—from six in the morning till
eight at night—little children and all. And they walk to and from
the pigsties which they inhabit—four miles each way, through mud and
slush, rain, snow, sleet, and storm, daily, year in and year out. They get
four hours of sleep. They kennel together, three families in a room, in
unimaginable filth and stench; and disease comes, and they die off like
flies. Have they committed a crime, these mangy things? No. What have they
done, that they are punished so? Nothing at all, except getting themselves
born into your foolish race. You have seen how they treat a misdoer there
in the jail; now you see how they treat the innocent and the worthy. Is
your race logical? Are these ill-smelling innocents better off than that
heretic? Indeed, no; his punishment is trivial compared with theirs. They
broke him on the wheel and smashed him to rags and pulp after we left, and
he is dead now, and free of your precious race; but these poor slaves here—why,
they have been dying for years, and some of them will not escape from life
for years to come. It is the Moral Sense which teaches the factory
proprietors the difference between right and wrong—you perceive the
result. They think themselves better than dogs. Ah, you are such an
illogical, unreasoning race! And paltry—oh, unspeakably!"
Then he dropped all seriousness and just overstrained himself making fun
of us, and deriding our pride in our warlike deeds, our great heroes, our
imperishable fames, our mighty kings, our ancient aristocracies, our
venerable history—and laughed and laughed till it was enough to make
a person sick to hear him; and finally he sobered a little and said, "But,
after all, it is not all ridiculous; there is a sort of pathos about it
when one remembers how few are your days, how childish your pomps, and
what shadows you are!"
Presently all things vanished suddenly from my sight, and I knew what it
meant. The next moment we were walking along in our village; and down
toward the river I saw the twinkling lights of the Golden Stag. Then in
the dark I heard a joyful cry:
"He's come again!"
It was Seppi Wohlmeyer. He had felt his blood leap and his spirits rise in
a way that could mean only one thing, and he knew Satan was near, although
it was too dark to see him. He came to us, and we walked along together,
and Seppi poured out his gladness like water. It was as if he were a lover
and had found his sweetheart who had been lost. Seppi was a smart and
animated boy, and had enthusiasm and expression, and was a contrast to
Nikolaus and me. He was full of the last new mystery, now—the
disappearance of Hans Oppert, the village loafer. People were beginning to
be curious about it, he said. He did not say anxious—curious was the
right word, and strong enough. No one had seen Hans for a couple of days.
"Not since he did that brutal thing, you know," he said.
"What brutal thing?" It was Satan that asked.
"Well, he is always clubbing his dog, which is a good dog, and his only
friend, and is faithful, and loves him, and does no one any harm; and two
days ago he was at it again, just for nothing—just for pleasure—and
the dog was howling and begging, and Theodor and I begged, too, but he
threatened us, and struck the dog again with all his might and knocked one
of his eyes out, and he said to us, 'There, I hope you are satisfied now;
that's what you have got for him by your damned meddling'—and he
laughed, the heartless brute." Seppi's voice trembled with pity and anger.
I guessed what Satan would say, and he said it.
"There is that misused word again—that shabby slander. Brutes do not
act like that, but only men."
"Well, it was inhuman, anyway."
"No, it wasn't, Seppi; it was human—quite distinctly human. It is
not pleasant to hear you libel the higher animals by attributing to them
dispositions which they are free from, and which are found nowhere but in
the human heart. None of the higher animals is tainted with the disease
called the Moral Sense. Purify your language, Seppi; drop those lying
phrases out of it."
He spoke pretty sternly—for him—and I was sorry I hadn't
warned Seppi to be more particular about the word he used. I knew how he
was feeling. He would not want to offend Satan; he would rather offend all
his kin. There was an uncomfortable silence, but relief soon came, for
that poor dog came along now, with his eye hanging down, and went straight
to Satan, and began to moan and mutter brokenly, and Satan began to answer
in the same way, and it was plain that they were talking together in the
dog language. We all sat down in the grass, in the moonlight, for the
clouds were breaking away now, and Satan took the dog's head in his lap
and put the eye back in its place, and the dog was comfortable, and he
wagged his tail and licked Satan's hand, and looked thankful and said the
same; I knew he was saying it, though I did not understand the words. Then
the two talked together a bit, and Satan said:
"He says his master was drunk."
"Yes, he was," said we.
"And an hour later he fell over the precipice there beyond the Cliff
"We know the place; it is three miles from here."
"And the dog has been often to the village, begging people to go there,
but he was only driven away and not listened to."
We remembered it, but hadn't understood what he wanted.
"He only wanted help for the man who had misused him, and he thought only
of that, and has had no food nor sought any. He has watched by his master
two nights. What do you think of your race? Is heaven reserved for it, and
this dog ruled out, as your teachers tell you? Can your race add anything
to this dog's stock of morals and magnanimities?" He spoke to the
creature, who jumped up, eager and happy, and apparently ready for orders
and impatient to execute them. "Get some men; go with the dog—he
will show you that carrion; and take a priest along to arrange about
insurance, for death is near."
With the last word he vanished, to our sorrow and disappointment. We got
the men and Father Adolf, and we saw the man die. Nobody cared but the
dog; he mourned and grieved, and licked the dead face, and could not be
comforted. We buried him where he was, and without a coffin, for he had no
money, and no friend but the dog. If we had been an hour earlier the
priest would have been in time to send that poor creature to heaven, but
now he was gone down into the awful fires, to burn forever. It seemed such
a pity that in a world where so many people have difficulty to put in
their time, one little hour could not have been spared for this poor
creature who needed it so much, and to whom it would have made the
difference between eternal joy and eternal pain. It gave an appalling idea
of the value of an hour, and I thought I could never waste one again
without remorse and terror. Seppi was depressed and grieved, and said it
must be so much better to be a dog and not run such awful risks. We took
this one home with us and kept him for our own. Seppi had a very good
thought as we were walking along, and it cheered us up and made us feel
much better. He said the dog had forgiven the man that had wronged him so,
and maybe God would accept that absolution.
There was a very dull week, now, for Satan did not come, nothing much was
going on, and we boys could not venture to go and see Marget, because the
nights were moonlit and our parents might find us out if we tried. But we
came across Ursula a couple of times taking a walk in the meadows beyond
the river to air the cat, and we learned from her that things were going
well. She had natty new clothes on and bore a prosperous look. The four
groschen a day were arriving without a break, but were not being spent for
food and wine and such things—the cat attended to all that.
Marget was enduring her forsakenness and isolation fairly well, all things
considered, and was cheerful, by help of Wilhelm Meidling. She spent an
hour or two every night in the jail with her uncle, and had fattened him
up with the cat's contributions. But she was curious to know more about
Philip Traum, and hoped I would bring him again. Ursula was curious about
him herself, and asked a good many questions about his uncle. It made the
boys laugh, for I had told them the nonsense Satan had been stuffing her
with. She got no satisfaction out of us, our tongues being tied.
Ursula gave us a small item of information: money being plenty now, she
had taken on a servant to help about the house and run errands. She tried
to tell it in a commonplace, matter-of-course way, but she was so set up
by it and so vain of it that her pride in it leaked out pretty plainly. It
was beautiful to see her veiled delight in this grandeur, poor old thing,
but when we heard the name of the servant we wondered if she had been
altogether wise; for although we were young, and often thoughtless, we had
fairly good perception on some matters. This boy was Gottfried Narr, a
dull, good creature, with no harm in him and nothing against him
personally; still, he was under a cloud, and properly so, for it had not
been six months since a social blight had mildewed the family—his
grandmother had been burned as a witch. When that kind of a malady is in
the blood it does not always come out with just one burning. Just now was
not a good time for Ursula and Marget to be having dealings with a member
of such a family, for the witch-terror had risen higher during the past
year than it had ever reached in the memory of the oldest villagers. The
mere mention of a witch was almost enough to frighten us out of our wits.
This was natural enough, because of late years there were more kinds of
witches than there used to be; in old times it had been only old women,
but of late years they were of all ages—even children of eight and
nine; it was getting so that anybody might turn out to be a familiar of
the Devil—age and sex hadn't anything to do with it. In our little
region we had tried to extirpate the witches, but the more of them we
burned the more of the breed rose up in their places.
Once, in a school for girls only ten miles away, the teachers found that
the back of one of the girls was all red and inflamed, and they were
greatly frightened, believing it to be the Devil's marks. The girl was
scared, and begged them not to denounce her, and said it was only fleas;
but of course it would not do to let the matter rest there. All the girls
were examined, and eleven out of the fifty were badly marked, the rest
less so. A commission was appointed, but the eleven only cried for their
mothers and would not confess. Then they were shut up, each by herself, in
the dark, and put on black bread and water for ten days and nights; and by
that time they were haggard and wild, and their eyes were dry and they did
not cry any more, but only sat and mumbled, and would not take the food.
Then one of them confessed, and said they had often ridden through the air
on broomsticks to the witches' Sabbath, and in a bleak place high up in
the mountains had danced and drunk and caroused with several hundred other
witches and the Evil One, and all had conducted themselves in a scandalous
way and had reviled the priests and blasphemed God. That is what she said—not
in narrative form, for she was not able to remember any of the details
without having them called to her mind one after the other; but the
commission did that, for they knew just what questions to ask, they being
all written down for the use of witch-commissioners two centuries before.
They asked, "Did you do so and so?" and she always said yes, and looked
weary and tired, and took no interest in it. And so when the other ten
heard that this one confessed, they confessed, too, and answered yes to
the questions. Then they were burned at the stake all together, which was
just and right; and everybody went from all the countryside to see it. I
went, too; but when I saw that one of them was a bonny, sweet girl I used
to play with, and looked so pitiful there chained to the stake, and her
mother crying over her and devouring her with kisses and clinging around
her neck, and saying, "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" it was too dreadful, and I
It was bitter cold weather when Gottfried's grandmother was burned. It was
charged that she had cured bad headaches by kneading the person's head and
neck with her fingers—as she said—but really by the Devil's
help, as everybody knew. They were going to examine her, but she stopped
them, and confessed straight off that her power was from the Devil. So
they appointed to burn her next morning, early, in our market-square. The
officer who was to prepare the fire was there first, and prepared it. She
was there next—brought by the constables, who left her and went to
fetch another witch. Her family did not come with her. They might be
reviled, maybe stoned, if the people were excited. I came, and gave her an
apple. She was squatting at the fire, warming herself and waiting; and her
old lips and hands were blue with the cold. A stranger came next. He was a
traveler, passing through; and he spoke to her gently, and, seeing nobody
but me there to hear, said he was sorry for her. And he asked if what she
confessed was true, and she said no. He looked surprised and still more
sorry then, and asked her:
"Then why did you confess?"
"I am old and very poor," she said, "and I work for my living. There was
no way but to confess. If I hadn't they might have set me free. That would
ruin me, for no one would forget that I had been suspected of being a
witch, and so I would get no more work, and wherever I went they would set
the dogs on me. In a little while I would starve. The fire is best; it is
soon over. You have been good to me, you two, and I thank you."
She snuggled closer to the fire, and put out her hands to warm them, the
snow-flakes descending soft and still on her old gray head and making it
white and whiter. The crowd was gathering now, and an egg came flying and
struck her in the eye, and broke and ran down her face. There was a laugh
I told Satan all about the eleven girls and the old woman, once, but it
did not affect him. He only said it was the human race, and what the human
race did was of no consequence. And he said he had seen it made; and it
was not made of clay; it was made of mud—part of it was, anyway. I
knew what he meant by that—the Moral Sense. He saw the thought in my
head, and it tickled him and made him laugh. Then he called a bullock out
of a pasture and petted it and talked with it, and said:
"There—he wouldn't drive children mad with hunger and fright and
loneliness, and then burn them for confessing to things invented for them
which had never happened. And neither would he break the hearts of
innocent, poor old women and make them afraid to trust themselves among
their own race; and he would not insult them in their death-agony. For he
is not besmirched with the Moral Sense, but is as the angels are, and
knows no wrong, and never does it."
Lovely as he was, Satan could be cruelly offensive when he chose; and he
always chose when the human race was brought to his attention. He always
turned up his nose at it, and never had a kind word for it.
Well, as I was saying, we boys doubted if it was a good time for Ursula to
be hiring a member of the Narr family. We were right. When the people
found it out they were naturally indignant. And, moreover, since Marget
and Ursula hadn't enough to eat themselves, where was the money coming
from to feed another mouth? That is what they wanted to know; and in order
to find out they stopped avoiding Gottfried and began to seek his society
and have sociable conversations with him. He was pleased—not
thinking any harm and not seeing the trap—and so he talked
innocently along, and was no discreeter than a cow.
"Money!" he said; "they've got plenty of it. They pay me two groschen a
week, besides my keep. And they live on the fat of the land, I can tell
you; the prince himself can't beat their table."
This astonishing statement was conveyed by the astrologer to Father Adolf
on a Sunday morning when he was returning from mass. He was deeply moved,
"This must be looked into."
He said there must be witchcraft at the bottom of it, and told the
villagers to resume relations with Marget and Ursula in a private and
unostentatious way, and keep both eyes open. They were told to keep their
own counsel, and not rouse the suspicions of the household. The villagers
were at first a bit reluctant to enter such a dreadful place, but the
priest said they would be under his protection while there, and no harm
could come to them, particularly if they carried a trifle of holy water
along and kept their beads and crosses handy. This satisfied them and made
them willing to go; envy and malice made the baser sort even eager to go.
And so poor Marget began to have company again, and was as pleased as a
cat. She was like 'most anybody else—just human, and happy in her
prosperities and not averse from showing them off a little; and she was
humanly grateful to have the warm shoulder turned to her and be smiled
upon by her friends and the village again; for of all the hard things to
bear, to be cut by your neighbors and left in contemptuous solitude is
maybe the hardest.
The bars were down, and we could all go there now, and we did—our
parents and all—day after day. The cat began to strain herself. She
provided the top of everything for those companies, and in abundance—among
them many a dish and many a wine which they had not tasted before and
which they had not even heard of except at second-hand from the prince's
servants. And the tableware was much above ordinary, too.
Marget was troubled at times, and pursued Ursula with questions to an
uncomfortable degree; but Ursula stood her ground and stuck to it that it
was Providence, and said no word about the cat. Marget knew that nothing
was impossible to Providence, but she could not help having doubts that
this effort was from there, though she was afraid to say so, lest disaster
come of it. Witchcraft occurred to her, but she put the thought aside, for
this was before Gottfried joined the household, and she knew Ursula was
pious and a bitter hater of witches. By the time Gottfried arrived
Providence was established, unshakably intrenched, and getting all the
gratitude. The cat made no murmur, but went on composedly improving in
style and prodigality by experience.
In any community, big or little, there is always a fair proportion of
people who are not malicious or unkind by nature, and who never do unkind
things except when they are overmastered by fear, or when their
self-interest is greatly in danger, or some such matter as that. Eseldorf
had its proportion of such people, and ordinarily their good and gentle
influence was felt, but these were not ordinary times—on account of
the witch-dread—and so we did not seem to have any gentle and
compassionate hearts left, to speak of. Every person was frightened at the
unaccountable state of things at Marget's house, not doubting that
witchcraft was at the bottom of it, and fright frenzied their reason.
Naturally there were some who pitied Marget and Ursula for the danger that
was gathering about them, but naturally they did not say so; it would not
have been safe. So the others had it all their own way, and there was none
to advise the ignorant girl and the foolish woman and warn them to modify
their doings. We boys wanted to warn them, but we backed down when it came
to the pinch, being afraid. We found that we were not manly enough nor
brave enough to do a generous action when there was a chance that it could
get us into trouble. Neither of us confessed this poor spirit to the
others, but did as other people would have done—dropped the subject
and talked about something else. And I knew we all felt mean, eating and
drinking Marget's fine things along with those companies of spies, and
petting her and complimenting her with the rest, and seeing with
self-reproach how foolishly happy she was, and never saying a word to put
her on her guard. And, indeed, she was happy, and as proud as a princess,
and so grateful to have friends again. And all the time these people were
watching with all their eyes and reporting all they saw to Father Adolf.
But he couldn't make head or tail of the situation. There must be an
enchanter somewhere on the premises, but who was it? Marget was not seen
to do any jugglery, nor was Ursula, nor yet Gottfried; and still the wines
and dainties never ran short, and a guest could not call for a thing and
not get it. To produce these effects was usual enough with witches and
enchanters—that part of it was not new; but to do it without any
incantations, or even any rumblings or earthquakes or lightnings or
apparitions—that was new, novel, wholly irregular. There was nothing
in the books like this. Enchanted things were always unreal. Gold turned
to dirt in an unenchanted atmosphere, food withered away and vanished. But
this test failed in the present case. The spies brought samples: Father
Adolf prayed over them, exorcised them, but it did no good; they remained
sound and real, they yielded to natural decay only, and took the usual
time to do it.
Father Adolf was not merely puzzled, he was also exasperated; for these
evidences very nearly convinced him—privately—that there was
no witchcraft in the matter. It did not wholly convince him, for this
could be a new kind of witchcraft. There was a way to find out as to this:
if this prodigal abundance of provender was not brought in from the
outside, but produced on the premises, there was witchcraft, sure.
Marget announced a party, and invited forty people; the date for it was
seven days away. This was a fine opportunity. Marget's house stood by
itself, and it could be easily watched. All the week it was watched night
and day. Marget's household went out and in as usual, but they carried
nothing in their hands, and neither they nor others brought anything to
the house. This was ascertained. Evidently rations for forty people were
not being fetched. If they were furnished any sustenance it would have to
be made on the premises. It was true that Marget went out with a basket
every evening, but the spies ascertained that she always brought it back
The guests arrived at noon and filled the place. Father Adolf followed;
also, after a little, the astrologer, without invitation. The spies had
informed him that neither at the back nor the front had any parcels been
brought in. He entered, and found the eating and drinking going on finely,
and everything progressing in a lively and festive way. He glanced around
and perceived that many of the cooked delicacies and all of the native and
foreign fruits were of a perishable character, and he also recognized that
these were fresh and perfect. No apparitions, no incantations, no thunder.
That settled it. This was witchcraft. And not only that, but of a new kind—a
kind never dreamed of before. It was a prodigious power, an illustrious
power; he resolved to discover its secret. The announcement of it would
resound throughout the world, penetrate to the remotest lands, paralyze
all the nations with amazement—and carry his name with it, and make
him renowned forever. It was a wonderful piece of luck, a splendid piece
of luck; the glory of it made him dizzy.
All the house made room for him; Marget politely seated him; Ursula
ordered Gottfried to bring a special table for him. Then she decked it and
furnished it, and asked for his orders.
"Bring me what you will," he said.
The two servants brought supplies from the pantry, together with white
wine and red—a bottle of each. The astrologer, who very likely had
never seen such delicacies before, poured out a beaker of red wine, drank
it off, poured another, then began to eat with a grand appetite.
I was not expecting Satan, for it was more than a week since I had seen or
heard of him, but now he came in—I knew it by the feel, though
people were in the way and I could not see him. I heard him apologizing
for intruding; and he was going away, but Marget urged him to stay, and he
thanked her and stayed. She brought him along, introducing him to the
girls, and to Meidling, and to some of the elders; and there was quite a
rustle of whispers: "It's the young stranger we hear so much about and
can't get sight of, he is away so much." "Dear, dear, but he is beautiful—what
is his name?" "Philip Traum." "Ah, it fits him!" (You see, "Traum" is
German for "Dream.") "What does he do?" "Studying for the ministry, they
say." "His face is his fortune—he'll be a cardinal some day." "Where
is his home?" "Away down somewhere in the tropics, they say—has a
rich uncle down there." And so on. He made his way at once; everybody was
anxious to know him and talk with him. Everybody noticed how cool and
fresh it was, all of a sudden, and wondered at it, for they could see that
the sun was beating down the same as before, outside, and the sky was
clear of clouds, but no one guessed the reason, of course.
The astrologer had drunk his second beaker; he poured out a third. He set
the bottle down, and by accident overturned it. He seized it before much
was spilled, and held it up to the light, saying, "What a pity—it is
royal wine." Then his face lighted with joy or triumph, or something, and
he said, "Quick! Bring a bowl."
It was brought—a four-quart one. He took up that two-pint bottle and
began to pour; went on pouring, the red liquor gurgling and gushing into
the white bowl and rising higher and higher up its sides, everybody
staring and holding their breath—and presently the bowl was full to
"Look at the bottle," he said, holding it up; "it is full yet!" I glanced
at Satan, and in that moment he vanished. Then Father Adolf rose up,
flushed and excited, crossed himself, and began to thunder in his great
voice, "This house is bewitched and accursed!" People began to cry and
shriek and crowd toward the door. "I summon this detected household to—"
His words were cut off short. His face became red, then purple, but he
could not utter another sound. Then I saw Satan, a transparent film, melt
into the astrologer's body; then the astrologer put up his hand, and
apparently in his own voice said, "Wait—remain where you are." All
stopped where they stood. "Bring a funnel!" Ursula brought it, trembling
and scared, and he stuck it in the bottle and took up the great bowl and
began to pour the wine back, the people gazing and dazed with
astonishment, for they knew the bottle was already full before he began.
He emptied the whole of the bowl into the bottle, then smiled out over the
room, chuckled, and said, indifferently: "It is nothing—anybody can
do it! With my powers I can even do much more."
A frightened cry burst out everywhere. "Oh, my God, he is possessed!" and
there was a tumultuous rush for the door which swiftly emptied the house
of all who did not belong in it except us boys and Meidling. We boys knew
the secret, and would have told it if we could, but we couldn't. We were
very thankful to Satan for furnishing that good help at the needful time.
Marget was pale, and crying; Meidling looked kind of petrified; Ursula the
same; but Gottfried was the worst—he couldn't stand, he was so weak
and scared. For he was of a witch family, you know, and it would be bad
for him to be suspected. Agnes came loafing in, looking pious and unaware,
and wanted to rub up against Ursula and be petted, but Ursula was afraid
of her and shrank away from her, but pretending she was not meaning any
incivility, for she knew very well it wouldn't answer to have strained
relations with that kind of a cat. But we boys took Agnes and petted her,
for Satan would not have befriended her if he had not had a good opinion
of her, and that was indorsement enough for us. He seemed to trust
anything that hadn't the Moral Sense.
Outside, the guests, panic-stricken, scattered in every direction and fled
in a pitiable state of terror; and such a tumult as they made with their
running and sobbing and shrieking and shouting that soon all the village
came flocking from their houses to see what had happened, and they
thronged the street and shouldered and jostled one another in excitement
and fright; and then Father Adolf appeared, and they fell apart in two
walls like the cloven Red Sea, and presently down this lane the astrologer
came striding and mumbling, and where he passed the lanes surged back in
packed masses, and fell silent with awe, and their eyes stared and their
breasts heaved, and several women fainted; and when he was gone by the
crowd swarmed together and followed him at a distance, talking excitedly
and asking questions and finding out the facts. Finding out the facts and
passing them on to others, with improvements—improvements which soon
enlarged the bowl of wine to a barrel, and made the one bottle hold it all
and yet remain empty to the last.
When the astrologer reached the market-square he went straight to a
juggler, fantastically dressed, who was keeping three brass balls in the
air, and took them from him and faced around upon the approaching crowd
and said: "This poor clown is ignorant of his art. Come forward and see an
So saying, he tossed the balls up one after another and set them whirling
in a slender bright oval in the air, and added another, then another and
another, and soon—no one seeing whence he got them—adding,
adding, adding, the oval lengthening all the time, his hands moving so
swiftly that they were just a web or a blur and not distinguishable as
hands; and such as counted said there were now a hundred balls in the air.
The spinning great oval reached up twenty feet in the air and was a
shining and glinting and wonderful sight. Then he folded his arms and told
the balls to go on spinning without his help—and they did it. After
a couple of minutes he said, "There, that will do," and the oval broke and
came crashing down, and the balls scattered abroad and rolled every
whither. And wherever one of them came the people fell back in dread, and
no one would touch it. It made him laugh, and he scoffed at the people and
called them cowards and old women. Then he turned and saw the tight-rope,
and said foolish people were daily wasting their money to see a clumsy and
ignorant varlet degrade that beautiful art; now they should see the work
of a master. With that he made a spring into the air and lit firm on his
feet on the rope. Then he hopped the whole length of it back and forth on
one foot, with his hands clasped over his eyes; and next he began to throw
somersaults, both backward and forward, and threw twenty-seven.
The people murmured, for the astrologer was old, and always before had
been halting of movement and at times even lame, but he was nimble enough
now and went on with his antics in the liveliest manner. Finally he sprang
lightly down and walked away, and passed up the road and around the corner
and disappeared. Then that great, pale, silent, solid crowd drew a deep
breath and looked into one another's faces as if they said: "Was it real?
Did you see it, or was it only I—and was I dreaming?" Then they
broke into a low murmur of talking, and fell apart in couples, and moved
toward their homes, still talking in that awed way, with faces close
together and laying a hand on an arm and making other such gestures as
people make when they have been deeply impressed by something.
We boys followed behind our fathers, and listened, catching all we could
of what they said; and when they sat down in our house and continued their
talk they still had us for company. They were in a sad mood, for it was
certain, they said, that disaster for the village must follow this awful
visitation of witches and devils. Then my father remembered that father
Adolf had been struck dumb at the moment of his denunciation.
"They have not ventured to lay their hands upon an anointed servant of God
before," he said; "and how they could have dared it this time I cannot
make out, for he wore his crucifix. Isn't it so?"
"Yes," said the others, "we saw it."
"It is serious, friends, it is very serious. Always before, we had a
protection. It has failed."
The others shook, as with a sort of chill, and muttered those words over—"It
has failed." "God has forsaken us."
"It is true," said Seppi Wohlmeyer's father; "there is nowhere to look for
"The people will realize this," said Nikolaus's father, the judge, "and
despair will take away their courage and their energies. We have indeed
fallen upon evil times."
He sighed, and Wohlmeyer said, in a troubled voice: "The report of it all
will go about the country, and our village will be shunned as being under
the displeasure of God. The Golden Stag will know hard times."
"True, neighbor," said my father; "all of us will suffer—all in
repute, many in estate. And, good God!—"
"What is it?"
"That can come—to finish us!"
"Name it—um Gottes Willen!"
It smote like a thunderclap, and they were like to swoon with the terror
of it. Then the dread of this calamity roused their energies, and they
stopped brooding and began to consider ways to avert it. They discussed
this, that, and the other way, and talked till the afternoon was far
spent, then confessed that at present they could arrive at no decision. So
they parted sorrowfully, with oppressed hearts which were filled with
While they were saying their parting words I slipped out and set my course
for Marget's house to see what was happening there. I met many people, but
none of them greeted me. It ought to have been surprising, but it was not,
for they were so distraught with fear and dread that they were not in
their right minds, I think; they were white and haggard, and walked like
persons in a dream, their eyes open but seeing nothing, their lips moving
but uttering nothing, and worriedly clasping and unclasping their hands
without knowing it.
At Marget's it was like a funeral. She and Wilhelm sat together on the
sofa, but said nothing, and not even holding hands. Both were steeped in
gloom, and Marget's eyes were red from the crying she had been doing. She
"I have been begging him to go, and come no more, and so save himself
alive. I cannot bear to be his murderer. This house is bewitched, and no
inmate will escape the fire. But he will not go, and he will be lost with
Wilhelm said he would not go; if there was danger for her, his place was
by her, and there he would remain. Then she began to cry again, and it was
all so mournful that I wished I had stayed away. There was a knock, now,
and Satan came in, fresh and cheery and beautiful, and brought that winy
atmosphere of his and changed the whole thing. He never said a word about
what had been happening, nor about the awful fears which were freezing the
blood in the hearts of the community, but began to talk and rattle on
about all manner of gay and pleasant things; and next about music—an
artful stroke which cleared away the remnant of Marget's depression and
brought her spirits and her interests broad awake. She had not heard any
one talk so well and so knowingly on that subject before, and she was so
uplifted by it and so charmed that what she was feeling lit up her face
and came out in her words; and Wilhelm noticed it and did not look as
pleased as he ought to have done. And next Satan branched off into poetry,
and recited some, and did it well, and Marget was charmed again; and again
Wilhelm was not as pleased as he ought to have been, and this time Marget
noticed it and was remorseful.
I fell asleep to pleasant music that night—the patter of rain upon
the panes and the dull growling of distant thunder. Away in the night
Satan came and roused me and said: "Come with me. Where shall we go?"
"Anywhere—so it is with you."
Then there was a fierce glare of sunlight, and he said, "This is China."
That was a grand surprise, and made me sort of drunk with vanity and
gladness to think I had come so far—so much, much farther than
anybody else in our village, including Bartel Sperling, who had such a
great opinion of his travels. We buzzed around over that empire for more
than half an hour, and saw the whole of it. It was wonderful, the
spectacles we saw; and some were beautiful, others too horrible to think.
For instance—However, I may go into that by and by, and also why
Satan chose China for this excursion instead of another place; it would
interrupt my tale to do it now. Finally we stopped flitting and lit.
We sat upon a mountain commanding a vast landscape of mountain-range and
gorge and valley and plain and river, with cities and villages slumbering
in the sunlight, and a glimpse of blue sea on the farther verge. It was a
tranquil and dreamy picture, beautiful to the eye and restful to the
spirit. If we could only make a change like that whenever we wanted to,
the world would be easier to live in than it is, for change of scene
shifts the mind's burdens to the other shoulder and banishes old,
shop-worn wearinesses from mind and body both.
We talked together, and I had the idea of trying to reform Satan and
persuade him to lead a better life. I told him about all those things he
had been doing, and begged him to be more considerate and stop making
people unhappy. I said I knew he did not mean any harm, but that he ought
to stop and consider the possible consequences of a thing before launching
it in that impulsive and random way of his; then he would not make so much
trouble. He was not hurt by this plain speech; he only looked amused and
surprised, and said:
"What? I do random things? Indeed, I never do. I stop and consider
possible consequences? Where is the need? I know what the consequences are
going to be—always."
"Oh, Satan, then how could you do these things?"
"Well, I will tell you, and you must understand if you can. You belong to
a singular race. Every man is a suffering-machine and a happiness-machine
combined. The two functions work together harmoniously, with a fine and
delicate precision, on the give-and-take principle. For every happiness
turned out in the one department the other stands ready to modify it with
a sorrow or a pain—maybe a dozen. In most cases the man's life is
about equally divided between happiness and unhappiness. When this is not
the case the unhappiness predominates—always; never the other.
Sometimes a man's make and disposition are such that his misery-machine is
able to do nearly all the business. Such a man goes through life almost
ignorant of what happiness is. Everything he touches, everything he does,
brings a misfortune upon him. You have seen such people? To that kind of a
person life is not an advantage, is it? It is only a disaster. Sometimes
for an hour's happiness a man's machinery makes him pay years of misery.
Don't you know that? It happens every now and then. I will give you a case
or two presently. Now the people of your village are nothing to me—you
know that, don't you?"
I did not like to speak out too flatly, so I said I had suspected it.
"Well, it is true that they are nothing to me. It is not possible that
they should be. The difference between them and me is abysmal,
immeasurable. They have no intellect."
"Nothing that resembles it. At a future time I will examine what man calls
his mind and give you the details of that chaos, then you will see and
understand. Men have nothing in common with me—there is no point of
contact; they have foolish little feelings and foolish little vanities and
impertinences and ambitions; their foolish little life is but a laugh, a
sigh, and extinction; and they have no sense. Only the Moral Sense. I will
show you what I mean. Here is a red spider, not so big as a pin's head.
Can you imagine an elephant being interested in him—caring whether
he is happy or isn't, or whether he is wealthy or poor, or whether his
sweetheart returns his love or not, or whether his mother is sick or well,
or whether he is looked up to in society or not, or whether his enemies
will smite him or his friends desert him, or whether his hopes will suffer
blight or his political ambitions fail, or whether he shall die in the
bosom of his family or neglected and despised in a foreign land? These
things can never be important to the elephant; they are nothing to him; he
cannot shrink his sympathies to the microscopic size of them. Man is to me
as the red spider is to the elephant. The elephant has nothing against the
spider—he cannot get down to that remote level; I have nothing
against man. The elephant is indifferent; I am indifferent. The elephant
would not take the trouble to do the spider an ill turn; if he took the
notion he might do him a good turn, if it came in his way and cost
nothing. I have done men good service, but no ill turns.
"The elephant lives a century, the red spider a day; in power, intellect,
and dignity the one creature is separated from the other by a distance
which is simply astronomical. Yet in these, as in all qualities, man is
immeasurably further below me than is the wee spider below the elephant.
"Man's mind clumsily and tediously and laboriously patches little
trivialities together and gets a result—such as it is. My mind
creates! Do you get the force of that? Creates anything it desires—and
in a moment. Creates without material. Creates fluids, solids, colors—anything,
everything—out of the airy nothing which is called Thought. A man
imagines a silk thread, imagines a machine to make it, imagines a picture,
then by weeks of labor embroiders it on canvas with the thread. I think
the whole thing, and in a moment it is before you—created.
"I think a poem, music, the record of a game of chess—anything—and
it is there. This is the immortal mind—nothing is beyond its reach.
Nothing can obstruct my vision; the rocks are transparent to me, and
darkness is daylight. I do not need to open a book; I take the whole of
its contents into my mind at a single glance, through the cover; and in a
million years I could not forget a single word of it, or its place in the
volume. Nothing goes on in the skull of man, bird, fish, insect, or other
creature which can be hidden from me. I pierce the learned man's brain
with a single glance, and the treasures which cost him threescore years to
accumulate are mine; he can forget, and he does forget, but I retain.
"Now, then, I perceive by your thoughts that you are understanding me
fairly well. Let us proceed. Circumstances might so fall out that the
elephant could like the spider—supposing he can see it—but he
could not love it. His love is for his own kind—for his equals. An
angel's love is sublime, adorable, divine, beyond the imagination of man—infinitely
beyond it! But it is limited to his own august order. If it fell upon one
of your race for only an instant, it would consume its object to ashes.
No, we cannot love men, but we can be harmlessly indifferent to them; we
can also like them, sometimes. I like you and the boys, I like father
Peter, and for your sakes I am doing all these things for the villagers."
He saw that I was thinking a sarcasm, and he explained his position.
"I have wrought well for the villagers, though it does not look like it on
the surface. Your race never know good fortune from ill. They are always
mistaking the one for the other. It is because they cannot see into the
future. What I am doing for the villagers will bear good fruit some day;
in some cases to themselves; in others, to unborn generations of men. No
one will ever know that I was the cause, but it will be none the less
true, for all that. Among you boys you have a game: you stand a row of
bricks on end a few inches apart; you push a brick, it knocks its neighbor
over, the neighbor knocks over the next brick—and so on till all the
row is prostrate. That is human life. A child's first act knocks over the
initial brick, and the rest will follow inexorably. If you could see into
the future, as I can, you would see everything that was going to happen to
that creature; for nothing can change the order of its life after the
first event has determined it. That is, nothing will change it, because
each act unfailingly begets an act, that act begets another, and so on to
the end, and the seer can look forward down the line and see just when
each act is to have birth, from cradle to grave."
"Does God order the career?"
"Foreordain it? No. The man's circumstances and environment order it. His
first act determines the second and all that follow after. But suppose,
for argument's sake, that the man should skip one of these acts; an
apparently trifling one, for instance; suppose that it had been appointed
that on a certain day, at a certain hour and minute and second and
fraction of a second he should go to the well, and he didn't go. That
man's career would change utterly, from that moment; thence to the grave
it would be wholly different from the career which his first act as a
child had arranged for him. Indeed, it might be that if he had gone to the
well he would have ended his career on a throne, and that omitting to do
it would set him upon a career that would lead to beggary and a pauper's
grave. For instance: if at any time—say in boyhood—Columbus
had skipped the triflingest little link in the chain of acts projected and
made inevitable by his first childish act, it would have changed his whole
subsequent life, and he would have become a priest and died obscure in an
Italian village, and America would not have been discovered for two
centuries afterward. I know this. To skip any one of the billion acts in
Columbus's chain would have wholly changed his life. I have examined his
billion of possible careers, and in only one of them occurs the discovery
of America. You people do not suspect that all of your acts are of one
size and importance, but it is true; to snatch at an appointed fly is as
big with fate for you as is any other appointed act—"
"As the conquering of a continent, for instance?"
"Yes. Now, then, no man ever does drop a link—the thing has never
happened! Even when he is trying to make up his mind as to whether he will
do a thing or not, that itself is a link, an act, and has its proper place
in his chain; and when he finally decides an act, that also was the thing
which he was absolutely certain to do. You see, now, that a man will never
drop a link in his chain. He cannot. If he made up his mind to try, that
project would itself be an unavoidable link—a thought bound to occur
to him at that precise moment, and made certain by the first act of his
It seemed so dismal!
"He is a prisoner for life," I said sorrowfully, "and cannot get free."
"No, of himself he cannot get away from the consequences of his first
childish act. But I can free him."
I looked up wistfully.
"I have changed the careers of a number of your villagers."
I tried to thank him, but found it difficult, and let it drop.
"I shall make some other changes. You know that little Lisa Brandt?"
"Oh yes, everybody does. My mother says she is so sweet and so lovely that
she is not like any other child. She says she will be the pride of the
village when she grows up; and its idol, too, just as she is now."
"I shall change her future."
"Make it better?" I asked.
"Yes. And I will change the future of Nikolaus."
I was glad, this time, and said, "I don't need to ask about his case; you
will be sure to do generously by him."
"It is my intention."
Straight off I was building that great future of Nicky's in my
imagination, and had already made a renowned general of him and hofmeister
at the court, when I noticed that Satan was waiting for me to get ready to
listen again. I was ashamed of having exposed my cheap imaginings to him,
and was expecting some sarcasms, but it did not happen. He proceeded with
"Nicky's appointed life is sixty-two years."
"That's grand!" I said.
"Lisa's, thirty-six. But, as I told you, I shall change their lives and
those ages. Two minutes and a quarter from now Nikolaus will wake out of
his sleep and find the rain blowing in. It was appointed that he should
turn over and go to sleep again. But I have appointed that he shall get up
and close the window first. That trifle will change his career entirely.
He will rise in the morning two minutes later than the chain of his life
had appointed him to rise. By consequence, thenceforth nothing will ever
happen to him in accordance with the details of the old chain." He took
out his watch and sat looking at it a few moments, then said: "Nikolaus
has risen to close the window. His life is changed, his new career has
begun. There will be consequences."
It made me feel creepy; it was uncanny.
"But for this change certain things would happen twelve days from now. For
instance, Nikolaus would save Lisa from drowning. He would arrive on the
scene at exactly the right moment—four minutes past ten, the
long-ago appointed instant of time—and the water would be shoal, the
achievement easy and certain. But he will arrive some seconds too late,
now; Lisa will have struggled into deeper water. He will do his best, but
both will drown."
"Oh, Satan! Oh, dear Satan!" I cried, with the tears rising in my eyes,
"save them! Don't let it happen. I can't bear to lose Nikolaus, he is my
loving playmate and friend; and think of Lisa's poor mother!"
I clung to him and begged and pleaded, but he was not moved. He made me
sit down again, and told me I must hear him out.
"I have changed Nikolaus's life, and this has changed Lisa's. If I had not
done this, Nikolaus would save Lisa, then he would catch cold from his
drenching; one of your race's fantastic and desolating scarlet fevers
would follow, with pathetic after-effects; for forty-six years he would
lie in his bed a paralytic log, deaf, dumb, blind, and praying night and
day for the blessed relief of death. Shall I change his life back?"
"Oh no! Oh, not for the world! In charity and pity leave it as it is."
"It is best so. I could not have changed any other link in his life and
done him so good a service. He had a billion possible careers, but not one
of them was worth living; they were charged full with miseries and
disasters. But for my intervention he would do his brave deed twelve days
from now—a deed begun and ended in six minutes—and get for all
reward those forty-six years of sorrow and suffering I told you of. It is
one of the cases I was thinking of awhile ago when I said that sometimes
an act which brings the actor an hour's happiness and self-satisfaction is
paid for—or punished—by years of suffering."
I wondered what poor little Lisa's early death would save her from. He
answered the thought:
"From ten years of pain and slow recovery from an accident, and then from
nineteen years' pollution, shame, depravity, crime, ending with death at
the hands of the executioner. Twelve days hence she will die; her mother
would save her life if she could. Am I not kinder than her mother?"
"Yes—oh, indeed yes; and wiser."
"Father Peter's case is coming on presently. He will be acquitted, through
unassailable proofs of his innocence."
"Why, Satan, how can that be? Do you really think it?"
"Indeed, I know it. His good name will be restored, and the rest of his
life will be happy."
"I can believe it. To restore his good name will have that effect."
"His happiness will not proceed from that cause. I shall change his life
that day, for his good. He will never know his good name has been
In my mind—and modestly—I asked for particulars, but Satan
paid no attention to my thought. Next, my mind wandered to the astrologer,
and I wondered where he might be.
"In the moon," said Satan, with a fleeting sound which I believed was a
chuckle. "I've got him on the cold side of it, too. He doesn't know where
he is, and is not having a pleasant time; still, it is good enough for
him, a good place for his star studies. I shall need him presently; then I
shall bring him back and possess him again. He has a long and cruel and
odious life before him, but I will change that, for I have no feeling
against him and am quite willing to do him a kindness. I think I shall get
He had such strange notions of kindness! But angels are made so, and do
not know any better. Their ways are not like our ways; and, besides, human
beings are nothing to them; they think they are only freaks. It seems to
me odd that he should put the astrologer so far away; he could have dumped
him in Germany just as well, where he would be handy.
"Far away?" said Satan. "To me no place is far away; distance does not
exist for me. The sun is less than a hundred million miles from here, and
the light that is falling upon us has taken eight minutes to come; but I
can make that flight, or any other, in a fraction of time so minute that
it cannot be measured by a watch. I have but to think the journey, and it
I held out my hand and said, "The light lies upon it; think it into a
glass of wine, Satan."
He did it. I drank the wine.
"Break the glass," he said.
I broke it.
"There—you see it is real. The villagers thought the brass balls
were magic stuff and as perishable as smoke. They were afraid to touch
them. You are a curious lot—your race. But come along; I have
business. I will put you to bed." Said and done. Then he was gone; but his
voice came back to me through the rain and darkness saying, "Yes, tell
Seppi, but no other."
It was the answer to my thought.
Sleep would not come. It was not because I was proud of my travels and
excited about having been around the big world to China, and feeling
contemptuous of Bartel Sperling, "the traveler," as he called himself, and
looked down upon us others because he had been to Vienna once and was the
only Eseldorf boy who had made such a journey and seen the world's
wonders. At another time that would have kept me awake, but it did not
affect me now. No, my mind was filled with Nikolaus, my thoughts ran upon
him only, and the good days we had seen together at romps and frolics in
the woods and the fields and the river in the long summer days, and
skating and sliding in the winter when our parents thought we were in
school. And now he was going out of this young life, and the summers and
winters would come and go, and we others would rove and play as before,
but his place would be vacant; we should see him no more. To-morrow he
would not suspect, but would be as he had always been, and it would shock
me to hear him laugh, and see him do lightsome and frivolous things, for
to me he would be a corpse, with waxen hands and dull eyes, and I should
see the shroud around his face; and next day he would not suspect, nor the
next, and all the time his handful of days would be wasting swiftly away
and that awful thing coming nearer and nearer, his fate closing steadily
around him and no one knowing it but Seppi and me. Twelve days—only
twelve days. It was awful to think of. I noticed that in my thoughts I was
not calling him by his familiar names, Nick and Nicky, but was speaking of
him by his full name, and reverently, as one speaks of the dead. Also, as
incident after incident of our comradeship came thronging into my mind out
of the past, I noticed that they were mainly cases where I had wronged him
or hurt him, and they rebuked me and reproached me, and my heart was wrung
with remorse, just as it is when we remember our unkindnesses to friends
who have passed beyond the veil, and we wish we could have them back
again, if only for a moment, so that we could go on our knees to them and
say, "Have pity, and forgive."
Once when we were nine years old he went a long errand of nearly two miles
for the fruiterer, who gave him a splendid big apple for reward, and he
was flying home with it, almost beside himself with astonishment and
delight, and I met him, and he let me look at the apple, not thinking of
treachery, and I ran off with it, eating it as I ran, he following me and
begging; and when he overtook me I offered him the core, which was all
that was left; and I laughed. Then he turned away, crying, and said he had
meant to give it to his little sister. That smote me, for she was slowly
getting well of a sickness, and it would have been a proud moment for him,
to see her joy and surprise and have her caresses. But I was ashamed to
say I was ashamed, and only said something rude and mean, to pretend I did
not care, and he made no reply in words, but there was a wounded look in
his face as he turned away toward his home which rose before me many times
in after years, in the night, and reproached me and made me ashamed again.
It had grown dim in my mind, by and by, then it disappeared; but it was
back now, and not dim.
Once at school, when we were eleven, I upset my ink and spoiled four
copy-books, and was in danger of severe punishment; but I put it upon him,
and he got the whipping.
And only last year I had cheated him in a trade, giving him a large
fish-hook which was partly broken through for three small sound ones. The
first fish he caught broke the hook, but he did not know I was blamable,
and he refused to take back one of the small hooks which my conscience
forced me to offer him, but said, "A trade is a trade; the hook was bad,
but that was not your fault."
No, I could not sleep. These little, shabby wrongs upbraided me and
tortured me, and with a pain much sharper than one feels when the wrongs
have been done to the living. Nikolaus was living, but no matter; he was
to me as one already dead. The wind was still moaning about the eaves, the
rain still pattering upon the panes.
In the morning I sought out Seppi and told him. It was down by the river.
His lips moved, but he did not say anything, he only looked dazed and
stunned, and his face turned very white. He stood like that a few moments,
the tears welling into his eyes, then he turned away and I locked my arm
in his and we walked along thinking, but not speaking. We crossed the
bridge and wandered through the meadows and up among the hills and the
woods, and at last the talk came and flowed freely, and it was all about
Nikolaus and was a recalling of the life we had lived with him. And every
now and then Seppi said, as if to himself:
"Twelve days!—less than twelve days."
We said we must be with him all the time; we must have all of him we
could; the days were precious now. Yet we did not go to seek him. It would
be like meeting the dead, and we were afraid. We did not say it, but that
was what we were feeling. And so it gave us a shock when we turned a curve
and came upon Nikolaus face to face. He shouted, gaily:
"Hi-hi! What is the matter? Have you seen a ghost?"
We couldn't speak, but there was no occasion; he was willing to talk for
us all, for he had just seen Satan and was in high spirits about it. Satan
had told him about our trip to China, and he had begged Satan to take him
a journey, and Satan had promised. It was to be a far journey, and
wonderful and beautiful; and Nikolaus had begged him to take us, too, but
he said no, he would take us some day, maybe, but not now. Satan would
come for him on the 13th, and Nikolaus was already counting the hours, he
was so impatient.
That was the fatal day. We were already counting the hours, too.
We wandered many a mile, always following paths which had been our
favorites from the days when we were little, and always we talked about
the old times. All the blitheness was with Nikolaus; we others could not
shake off our depression. Our tone toward Nikolaus was so strangely gentle
and tender and yearning that he noticed it, and was pleased; and we were
constantly doing him deferential little offices of courtesy, and saying,
"Wait, let me do that for you," and that pleased him, too. I gave him
seven fish-hooks—all I had—and made him take them; and Seppi
gave him his new knife and a humming-top painted red and yellow—atonements
for swindles practised upon him formerly, as I learned later, and probably
no longer remembered by Nikolaus now. These things touched him, and he
could not have believed that we loved him so; and his pride in it and
gratefulness for it cut us to the heart, we were so undeserving of them.
When we parted at last, he was radiant, and said he had never had such a
As we walked along homeward, Seppi said, "We always prized him, but never
so much as now, when we are going to lose him."
Next day and every day we spent all of our spare time with Nikolaus; and
also added to it time which we (and he) stole from work and other duties,
and this cost the three of us some sharp scoldings, and some threats of
punishment. Every morning two of us woke with a start and a shudder,
saying, as the days flew along, "Only ten days left;" "only nine days
left;" "only eight;" "only seven." Always it was narrowing. Always
Nikolaus was gay and happy, and always puzzled because we were not. He
wore his invention to the bone trying to invent ways to cheer us up, but
it was only a hollow success; he could see that our jollity had no heart
in it, and that the laughs we broke into came up against some obstruction
or other and suffered damage and decayed into a sigh. He tried to find out
what the matter was, so that he could help us out of our trouble or make
it lighter by sharing it with us; so we had to tell many lies to deceive
him and appease him.
But the most distressing thing of all was that he was always making plans,
and often they went beyond the 13th! Whenever that happened it made us
groan in spirit. All his mind was fixed upon finding some way to conquer
our depression and cheer us up; and at last, when he had but three days to
live, he fell upon the right idea and was jubilant over it—a
boys-and-girls' frolic and dance in the woods, up there where we first met
Satan, and this was to occur on the 14th. It was ghastly, for that was his
funeral day. We couldn't venture to protest; it would only have brought a
"Why?" which we could not answer. He wanted us to help him invite his
guests, and we did it—one can refuse nothing to a dying friend. But
it was dreadful, for really we were inviting them to his funeral.
It was an awful eleven days; and yet, with a lifetime stretching back
between to-day and then, they are still a grateful memory to me, and
beautiful. In effect they were days of companionship with one's sacred
dead, and I have known no comradeship that was so close or so precious. We
clung to the hours and the minutes, counting them as they wasted away, and
parting with them with that pain and bereavement which a miser feels who
sees his hoard filched from him coin by coin by robbers and is helpless to
When the evening of the last day came we stayed out too long; Seppi and I
were in fault for that; we could not bear to part with Nikolaus; so it was
very late when we left him at his door. We lingered near awhile,
listening; and that happened which we were fearing. His father gave him
the promised punishment, and we heard his shrieks. But we listened only a
moment, then hurried away, remorseful for this thing which we had caused.
And sorry for the father, too; our thought being, "If he only knew—if
he only knew!"
In the morning Nikolaus did not meet us at the appointed place, so we went
to his home to see what the matter was. His mother said:
"His father is out of all patience with these goings-on, and will not have
any more of it. Half the time when Nick is needed he is not to be found;
then it turns out that he has been gadding around with you two. His father
gave him a flogging last night. It always grieved me before, and many's
the time I have begged him off and saved him, but this time he appealed to
me in vain, for I was out of patience myself."
"I wish you had saved him just this one time," I said, my voice trembling
a little; "it would ease a pain in your heart to remember it some day."
She was ironing at the time, and her back was partly toward me. She turned
about with a startled or wondering look in her face and said, "What do you
mean by that?"
I was not prepared, and didn't know anything to say; so it was awkward,
for she kept looking at me; but Seppi was alert and spoke up:
"Why, of course it would be pleasant to remember, for the very reason we
were out so late was that Nikolaus got to telling how good you are to him,
and how he never got whipped when you were by to save him; and he was so
full of it, and we were so full of the interest of it, that none of us
noticed how late it was getting."
"Did he say that? Did he?" and she put her apron to her eyes.
"You can ask Theodor—he will tell you the same."
"It is a dear, good lad, my Nick," she said. "I am sorry I let him get
whipped; I will never do it again. To think—all the time I was
sitting here last night, fretting and angry at him, he was loving me and
praising me! Dear, dear, if we could only know! Then we shouldn't ever go
wrong; but we are only poor, dumb beasts groping around and making
mistakes. I shan't ever think of last night without a pang."
She was like all the rest; it seemed as if nobody could open a mouth, in
these wretched days, without saying something that made us shiver. They
were "groping around," and did not know what true, sorrowfully true things
they were saying by accident.
Seppi asked if Nikolaus might go out with us.
"I am sorry," she answered, "but he can't. To punish him further, his
father doesn't allow him to go out of the house to-day."
We had a great hope! I saw it in Seppi's eyes. We thought, "If he cannot
leave the house, he cannot be drowned." Seppi asked, to make sure:
"Must he stay in all day, or only the morning?"
"All day. It's such a pity, too; it's a beautiful day, and he is so unused
to being shut up. But he is busy planning his party, and maybe that is
company for him. I do hope he isn't too lonesome."
Seppi saw that in her eye which emboldened him to ask if we might go up
and help him pass his time.
"And welcome!" she said, right heartily. "Now I call that real friendship,
when you might be abroad in the fields and the woods, having a happy time.
You are good boys, I'll allow that, though you don't always find
satisfactory ways of improving it. Take these cakes—for yourselves—and
give him this one, from his mother."
The first thing we noticed when we entered Nikolaus's room was the time—a
quarter to 10. Could that be correct? Only such a few minutes to live! I
felt a contraction at my heart. Nikolaus jumped up and gave us a glad
welcome. He was in good spirits over his plannings for his party and had
not been lonesome.
"Sit down," he said, "and look at what I've been doing. And I've finished
a kite that you will say is a beauty. It's drying, in the kitchen; I'll
He had been spending his penny savings in fanciful trifles of various
kinds, to go as prizes in the games, and they were marshaled with fine and
showy effect upon the table. He said:
"Examine them at your leisure while I get mother to touch up the kite with
her iron if it isn't dry enough yet."
Then he tripped out and went clattering down-stairs, whistling.
We did not look at the things; we couldn't take any interest in anything
but the clock. We sat staring at it in silence, listening to the ticking,
and every time the minute-hand jumped we nodded recognition—one
minute fewer to cover in the race for life or for death. Finally Seppi
drew a deep breath and said:
"Two minutes to ten. Seven minutes more and he will pass the death-point.
Theodor, he is going to be saved! He's going to—"
"Hush! I'm on needles. Watch the clock and keep still."
Five minutes more. We were panting with the strain and the excitement.
Another three minutes, and there was a footstep on the stair.
"Saved!" And we jumped up and faced the door.
The old mother entered, bringing the kite. "Isn't it a beauty?" she said.
"And, dear me, how he has slaved over it—ever since daylight, I
think, and only finished it awhile before you came." She stood it against
the wall, and stepped back to take a view of it. "He drew the pictures his
own self, and I think they are very good. The church isn't so very good,
I'll have to admit, but look at the bridge—any one can recognize the
bridge in a minute. He asked me to bring it up.... Dear me! it's seven
minutes past ten, and I—"
"But where is he?"
"He? Oh, he'll be here soon; he's gone out a minute."
"Yes. Just as he came down-stairs little Lisa's mother came in and said
the child had wandered off somewhere, and as she was a little uneasy I
told Nikolaus to never mind about his father's orders—go and look
her up.... Why, how white you two do look! I do believe you are sick. Sit
down; I'll fetch something. That cake has disagreed with you. It is a
little heavy, but I thought—"
She disappeared without finishing her sentence, and we hurried at once to
the back window and looked toward the river. There was a great crowd at
the other end of the bridge, and people were flying toward that point from
"Oh, it is all over—poor Nikolaus! Why, oh, why did she let him get
out of the house!"
"Come away," said Seppi, half sobbing, "come quick—we can't bear to
meet her; in five minutes she will know."
But we were not to escape. She came upon us at the foot of the stairs,
with her cordials in her hands, and made us come in and sit down and take
the medicine. Then she watched the effect, and it did not satisfy her; so
she made us wait longer, and kept upbraiding herself for giving us the
Presently the thing happened which we were dreading. There was a sound of
tramping and scraping outside, and a crowd came solemnly in, with heads
uncovered, and laid the two drowned bodies on the bed.
"Oh, my God!" that poor mother cried out, and fell on her knees, and put
her arms about her dead boy and began to cover the wet face with kisses.
"Oh, it was I that sent him, and I have been his death. If I had obeyed,
and kept him in the house, this would not have happened. And I am rightly
punished; I was cruel to him last night, and him begging me, his own
mother, to be his friend."
And so she went on and on, and all the women cried, and pitied her, and
tried to comfort her, but she could not forgive herself and could not be
comforted, and kept on saying if she had not sent him out he would be
alive and well now, and she was the cause of his death.
It shows how foolish people are when they blame themselves for anything
they have done. Satan knows, and he said nothing happens that your first
act hasn't arranged to happen and made inevitable; and so, of your own
motion you can't ever alter the scheme or do a thing that will break a
link. Next we heard screams, and Frau Brandt came wildly plowing and
plunging through the crowd with her dress in disorder and hair flying
loose, and flung herself upon her dead child with moans and kisses and
pleadings and endearments; and by and by she rose up almost exhausted with
her outpourings of passionate emotion, and clenched her fist and lifted it
toward the sky, and her tear-drenched face grew hard and resentful, and
"For nearly two weeks I have had dreams and presentiments and warnings
that death was going to strike what was most precious to me, and day and
night and night and day I have groveled in the dirt before Him praying Him
to have pity on my innocent child and save it from harm—and here is
Why, He had saved it from harm—but she did not know.
She wiped the tears from her eyes and cheeks, and stood awhile gazing down
at the child and caressing its face and its hair with her hands; then she
spoke again in that bitter tone: "But in His hard heart is no compassion.
I will never pray again."
She gathered her dead child to her bosom and strode away, the crowd
falling back to let her pass, and smitten dumb by the awful words they had
heard. Ah, that poor woman! It is as Satan said, we do not know good
fortune from bad, and are always mistaking the one for the other. Many a
time since I have heard people pray to God to spare the life of sick
persons, but I have never done it.
Both funerals took place at the same time in our little church next day.
Everybody was there, including the party guests. Satan was there, too;
which was proper, for it was on account of his efforts that the funerals
had happened. Nikolaus had departed this life without absolution, and a
collection was taken up for masses, to get him out of purgatory. Only
two-thirds of the required money was gathered, and the parents were going
to try to borrow the rest, but Satan furnished it. He told us privately
that there was no purgatory, but he had contributed in order that
Nikolaus's parents and their friends might be saved from worry and
distress. We thought it very good of him, but he said money did not cost
At the graveyard the body of little Lisa was seized for debt by a
carpenter to whom the mother owed fifty groschen for work done the year
before. She had never been able to pay this, and was not able now. The
carpenter took the corpse home and kept it four days in his cellar, the
mother weeping and imploring about his house all the time; then he buried
it in his brother's cattle-yard, without religious ceremonies. It drove
the mother wild with grief and shame, and she forsook her work and went
daily about the town, cursing the carpenter and blaspheming the laws of
the emperor and the church, and it was pitiful to see. Seppi asked Satan
to interfere, but he said the carpenter and the rest were members of the
human race and were acting quite neatly for that species of animal. He
would interfere if he found a horse acting in such a way, and we must
inform him when we came across that kind of horse doing that kind of human
thing, so that he could stop it. We believed this was sarcasm, for of
course there wasn't any such horse.
But after a few days we found that we could not abide that poor woman's
distress, so we begged Satan to examine her several possible careers, and
see if he could not change her, to her profit, to a new one. He said the
longest of her careers as they now stood gave her forty-two years to live,
and her shortest one twenty-nine, and that both were charged with grief
and hunger and cold and pain. The only improvement he could make would be
to enable her to skip a certain three minutes from now; and he asked us if
he should do it. This was such a short time to decide in that we went to
pieces with nervous excitement, and before we could pull ourselves
together and ask for particulars he said the time would be up in a few
more seconds; so then we gasped out, "Do it!"
"It is done," he said; "she was going around a corner; I have turned her
back; it has changed her career."
"Then what will happen, Satan?"
"It is happening now. She is having words with Fischer, the weaver. In his
anger Fischer will straightway do what he would not have done but for this
accident. He was present when she stood over her child's body and uttered
"What will he do?"
"He is doing it now—betraying her. In three days she will go to the
We could not speak; we were frozen with horror, for if we had not meddled
with her career she would have been spared this awful fate. Satan noticed
these thoughts, and said:
"What you are thinking is strictly human-like—that is to say,
foolish. The woman is advantaged. Die when she might, she would go to
heaven. By this prompt death she gets twenty-nine years more of heaven
than she is entitled to, and escapes twenty-nine years of misery here."
A moment before we were bitterly making up our minds that we would ask no
more favors of Satan for friends of ours, for he did not seem to know any
way to do a person a kindness but by killing him; but the whole aspect of
the case was changed now, and we were glad of what we had done and full of
happiness in the thought of it.
After a little I began to feel troubled about Fischer, and asked, timidly,
"Does this episode change Fischer's life-scheme, Satan?"
"Change it? Why, certainly. And radically. If he had not met Frau Brandt
awhile ago he would die next year, thirty-four years of age. Now he will
live to be ninety, and have a pretty prosperous and comfortable life of
it, as human lives go."
We felt a great joy and pride in what we had done for Fischer, and were
expecting Satan to sympathize with this feeling; but he showed no sign and
this made us uneasy. We waited for him to speak, but he didn't; so, to
assuage our solicitude we had to ask him if there was any defect in
Fischer's good luck. Satan considered the question a moment, then said,
with some hesitation:
"Well, the fact is, it is a delicate point. Under his several former
possible life-careers he was going to heaven."
We were aghast. "Oh, Satan! and under this one—"
"There, don't be so distressed. You were sincerely trying to do him a
kindness; let that comfort you."
"Oh, dear, dear, that cannot comfort us. You ought to have told us what we
were doing, then we wouldn't have acted so."
But it made no impression on him. He had never felt a pain or a sorrow,
and did not know what they were, in any really informing way. He had no
knowledge of them except theoretically—that is to say,
intellectually. And of course that is no good. One can never get any but a
loose and ignorant notion of such things except by experience. We tried
our best to make him comprehend the awful thing that had been done and how
we were compromised by it, but he couldn't seem to get hold of it. He said
he did not think it important where Fischer went to; in heaven he would
not be missed, there were "plenty there." We tried to make him see that he
was missing the point entirely; that Fischer, and not other people, was
the proper one to decide about the importance of it; but it all went for
nothing; he said he did not care for Fischer—there were plenty more
The next minute Fischer went by on the other side of the way, and it made
us sick and faint to see him, remembering the doom that was upon him, and
we the cause of it. And how unconscious he was that anything had happened
to him! You could see by his elastic step and his alert manner that he was
well satisfied with himself for doing that hard turn for poor Frau Brandt.
He kept glancing back over his shoulder expectantly. And, sure enough,
pretty soon Frau Brandt followed after, in charge of the officers and
wearing jingling chains. A mob was in her wake, jeering and shouting,
"Blasphemer and heretic!" and some among them were neighbors and friends
of her happier days. Some were trying to strike her, and the officers were
not taking as much trouble as they might to keep them from it.
"Oh, stop them, Satan!" It was out before we remembered that he could not
interrupt them for a moment without changing their whole after-lives. He
puffed a little puff toward them with his lips and they began to reel and
stagger and grab at the empty air; then they broke apart and fled in every
direction, shrieking, as if in intolerable pain. He had crushed a rib of
each of them with that little puff. We could not help asking if their
life-chart was changed.
"Yes, entirely. Some have gained years, some have lost them. Some few will
profit in various ways by the change, but only that few."
We did not ask if we had brought poor Fischer's luck to any of them. We
did not wish to know. We fully believed in Satan's desire to do us
kindnesses, but we were losing confidence in his judgment. It was at this
time that our growing anxiety to have him look over our life-charts and
suggest improvements began to fade out and give place to other interests.
For a day or two the whole village was a chattering turmoil over Frau
Brandt's case and over the mysterious calamity that had overtaken the mob,
and at her trial the place was crowded. She was easily convicted of her
blasphemies, for she uttered those terrible words again and said she would
not take them back. When warned that she was imperiling her life, she said
they could take it in welcome, she did not want it, she would rather live
with the professional devils in perdition than with these imitators in the
village. They accused her of breaking all those ribs by witchcraft, and
asked her if she was not a witch? She answered scornfully:
"No. If I had that power would any of you holy hypocrites be alive five
minutes? No; I would strike you all dead. Pronounce your sentence and let
me go; I am tired of your society."
So they found her guilty, and she was excommunicated and cut off from the
joys of heaven and doomed to the fires of hell; then she was clothed in a
coarse robe and delivered to the secular arm, and conducted to the
market-place, the bell solemnly tolling the while. We saw her chained to
the stake, and saw the first film of blue smoke rise on the still air.
Then her hard face softened, and she looked upon the packed crowd in front
of her and said, with gentleness:
"We played together once, in long-agone days when we were innocent little
creatures. For the sake of that, I forgive you."
We went away then, and did not see the fires consume her, but we heard the
shrieks, although we put our fingers in our ears. When they ceased we knew
she was in heaven, notwithstanding the excommunication; and we were glad
of her death and not sorry that we had brought it about.
One day, a little while after this, Satan appeared again. We were always
watching out for him, for life was never very stagnant when he was by. He
came upon us at that place in the woods where we had first met him. Being
boys, we wanted to be entertained; we asked him to do a show for us.
"Very well," he said; "would you like to see a history of the progress of
the human race?—its development of that product which it calls
We said we should.
So, with a thought, he turned the place into the Garden of Eden, and we
saw Abel praying by his altar; then Cain came walking toward him with his
club, and did not seem to see us, and would have stepped on my foot if I
had not drawn it in. He spoke to his brother in a language which we did
not understand; then he grew violent and threatening, and we knew what was
going to happen, and turned away our heads for the moment; but we heard
the crash of the blows and heard the shrieks and the groans; then there
was silence, and we saw Abel lying in his blood and gasping out his life,
and Cain standing over him and looking down at him, vengeful and
Then the vision vanished, and was followed by a long series of unknown
wars, murders, and massacres. Next we had the Flood, and the Ark tossing
around in the stormy waters, with lofty mountains in the distance showing
veiled and dim through the rain. Satan said:
"The progress of your race was not satisfactory. It is to have another
The scene changed, and we saw Noah overcome with wine.
Next, we had Sodom and Gomorrah, and "the attempt to discover two or three
respectable persons there," as Satan described it. Next, Lot and his
daughters in the cave.
Next came the Hebraic wars, and we saw the victors massacre the survivors
and their cattle, and save the young girls alive and distribute them
Next we had Jael; and saw her slip into the tent and drive the nail into
the temple of her sleeping guest; and we were so close that when the blood
gushed out it trickled in a little, red stream to our feet, and we could
have stained our hands in it if we had wanted to.
Next we had Egyptian wars, Greek wars, Roman wars, hideous drenchings of
the earth with blood; and we saw the treacheries of the Romans toward the
Carthaginians, and the sickening spectacle of the massacre of those brave
people. Also we saw Caesar invade Britain—"not that those barbarians
had done him any harm, but because he wanted their land, and desired to
confer the blessings of civilization upon their widows and orphans," as
Next, Christianity was born. Then ages of Europe passed in review before
us, and we saw Christianity and Civilization march hand in hand through
those ages, "leaving famine and death and desolation in their wake, and
other signs of the progress of the human race," as Satan observed.
And always we had wars, and more wars, and still other wars—all over
Europe, all over the world. "Sometimes in the private interest of royal
families," Satan said, "sometimes to crush a weak nation; but never a war
started by the aggressor for any clean purpose—there is no such war
in the history of the race."
"Now," said Satan, "you have seen your progress down to the present, and
you must confess that it is wonderful—in its way. We must now
exhibit the future."
He showed us slaughters more terrible in their destruction of life, more
devastating in their engines of war, than any we had seen.
"You perceive," he said, "that you have made continual progress. Cain did
his murder with a club; the Hebrews did their murders with javelins and
swords; the Greeks and Romans added protective armor and the fine arts of
military organization and generalship; the Christian has added guns and
gunpowder; a few centuries from now he will have so greatly improved the
deadly effectiveness of his weapons of slaughter that all men will confess
that without Christian civilization war must have remained a poor and
trifling thing to the end of time."
Then he began to laugh in the most unfeeling way, and make fun of the
human race, although he knew that what he had been saying shamed us and
wounded us. No one but an angel could have acted so; but suffering is
nothing to them; they do not know what it is, except by hearsay.
More than once Seppi and I had tried in a humble and diffident way to
convert him, and as he had remained silent we had taken his silence as a
sort of encouragement; necessarily, then, this talk of his was a
disappointment to us, for it showed that we had made no deep impression
upon him. The thought made us sad, and we knew then how the missionary
must feel when he has been cherishing a glad hope and has seen it
blighted. We kept our grief to ourselves, knowing that this was not the
time to continue our work.
Satan laughed his unkind laugh to a finish; then he said: "It is a
remarkable progress. In five or six thousand years five or six high
civilizations have risen, flourished, commanded the wonder of the world,
then faded out and disappeared; and not one of them except the latest ever
invented any sweeping and adequate way to kill people. They all did their
best—to kill being the chiefest ambition of the human race and the
earliest incident in its history—but only the Christian civilization
has scored a triumph to be proud of. Two or three centuries from now it
will be recognized that all the competent killers are Christians; then the
pagan world will go to school to the Christian—not to acquire his
religion, but his guns. The Turk and the Chinaman will buy those to kill
missionaries and converts with."
By this time his theater was at work again, and before our eyes nation
after nation drifted by, during two or three centuries, a mighty
procession, an endless procession, raging, struggling, wallowing through
seas of blood, smothered in battle-smoke through which the flags glinted
and the red jets from the cannon darted; and always we heard the thunder
of the guns and the cries of the dying.
"And what does it amount to?" said Satan, with his evil chuckle. "Nothing
at all. You gain nothing; you always come out where you went in. For a
million years the race has gone on monotonously propagating itself and
monotonously reperforming this dull nonsense—to what end? No wisdom
can guess! Who gets a profit out of it? Nobody but a parcel of usurping
little monarchs and nobilities who despise you; would feel defiled if you
touched them; would shut the door in your face if you proposed to call;
whom you slave for, fight for, die for, and are not ashamed of it, but
proud; whose existence is a perpetual insult to you and you are afraid to
resent it; who are mendicants supported by your alms, yet assume toward
you the airs of benefactor toward beggar; who address you in the language
of master to slave, and are answered in the language of slave to master;
who are worshiped by you with your mouth, while in your heart—if you
have one—you despise yourselves for it. The first man was a
hypocrite and a coward, qualities which have not yet failed in his line;
it is the foundation upon which all civilizations have been built. Drink
to their perpetuation! Drink to their augmentation! Drink to—" Then
he saw by our faces how much we were hurt, and he cut his sentence short
and stopped chuckling, and his manner changed. He said, gently: "No, we
will drink one another's health, and let civilization go. The wine which
has flown to our hands out of space by desire is earthly, and good enough
for that other toast; but throw away the glasses; we will drink this one
in wine which has not visited this world before."
We obeyed, and reached up and received the new cups as they descended.
They were shapely and beautiful goblets, but they were not made of any
material that we were acquainted with. They seemed to be in motion, they
seemed to be alive; and certainly the colors in them were in motion. They
were very brilliant and sparkling, and of every tint, and they were never
still, but flowed to and fro in rich tides which met and broke and flashed
out dainty explosions of enchanting color. I think it was most like opals
washing about in waves and flashing out their splendid fires. But there is
nothing to compare the wine with. We drank it, and felt a strange and
witching ecstasy as of heaven go stealing through us, and Seppi's eyes
filled and he said worshipingly:
"We shall be there some day, and then—"
He glanced furtively at Satan, and I think he hoped Satan would say, "Yes,
you will be there some day," but Satan seemed to be thinking about
something else, and said nothing. This made me feel ghastly, for I knew he
had heard; nothing, spoken or unspoken, ever escaped him. Poor Seppi
looked distressed, and did not finish his remark. The goblets rose and
clove their way into the sky, a triplet of radiant sundogs, and
disappeared. Why didn't they stay? It seemed a bad sign, and depressed me.
Should I ever see mine again? Would Seppi ever see his?
It was wonderful, the mastery Satan had over time and distance. For him
they did not exist. He called them human inventions, and said they were
artificialities. We often went to the most distant parts of the globe with
him, and stayed weeks and months, and yet were gone only a fraction of a
second, as a rule. You could prove it by the clock. One day when our
people were in such awful distress because the witch commission were
afraid to proceed against the astrologer and Father Peter's household, or
against any, indeed, but the poor and the friendless, they lost patience
and took to witch-hunting on their own score, and began to chase a born
lady who was known to have the habit of curing people by devilish arts,
such as bathing them, washing them, and nourishing them instead of
bleeding them and purging them through the ministrations of a
barber-surgeon in the proper way. She came flying down, with the howling
and cursing mob after her, and tried to take refuge in houses, but the
doors were shut in her face. They chased her more than half an hour, we
following to see it, and at last she was exhausted and fell, and they
caught her. They dragged her to a tree and threw a rope over the limb, and
began to make a noose in it, some holding her, meantime, and she crying
and begging, and her young daughter looking on and weeping, but afraid to
say or do anything.
They hanged the lady, and I threw a stone at her, although in my heart I
was sorry for her; but all were throwing stones and each was watching his
neighbor, and if I had not done as the others did it would have been
noticed and spoken of. Satan burst out laughing.
All that were near by turned upon him, astonished and not pleased. It was
an ill time to laugh, for his free and scoffing ways and his supernatural
music had brought him under suspicion all over the town and turned many
privately against him. The big blacksmith called attention to him now,
raising his voice so that all should hear, and said:
"What are you laughing at? Answer! Moreover, please explain to the company
why you threw no stone."
"Are you sure I did not throw a stone?"
"Yes. You needn't try to get out of it; I had my eye on you."
"And I—I noticed you!" shouted two others.
"Three witnesses," said Satan: "Mueller, the blacksmith; Klein, the
butcher's man; Pfeiffer, the weaver's journeyman. Three very ordinary
liars. Are there any more?"
"Never mind whether there are others or not, and never mind about what you
consider us—three's enough to settle your matter for you. You'll
prove that you threw a stone, or it shall go hard with you."
"That's so!" shouted the crowd, and surged up as closely as they could to
the center of interest.
"And first you will answer that other question," cried the blacksmith,
pleased with himself for being mouthpiece to the public and hero of the
occasion. "What are you laughing at?"
Satan smiled and answered, pleasantly: "To see three cowards stoning a
dying lady when they were so near death themselves."
You could see the superstitious crowd shrink and catch their breath, under
the sudden shock. The blacksmith, with a show of bravado, said:
"Pooh! What do you know about it?"
"I? Everything. By profession I am a fortune-teller, and I read the hands
of you three—and some others—when you lifted them to stone the
woman. One of you will die to-morrow week; another of you will die
to-night; the third has but five minutes to live—and yonder is the
It made a sensation. The faces of the crowd blanched, and turned
mechanically toward the clock. The butcher and the weaver seemed smitten
with an illness, but the blacksmith braced up and said, with spirit:
"It is not long to wait for prediction number one. If it fails, young
master, you will not live a whole minute after, I promise you that."
No one said anything; all watched the clock in a deep stillness which was
impressive. When four and a half minutes were gone the blacksmith gave a
sudden gasp and clapped his hands upon his heart, saying, "Give me breath!
Give me room!" and began to sink down. The crowd surged back, no one
offering to support him, and he fell lumbering to the ground and was dead.
The people stared at him, then at Satan, then at one another; and their
lips moved, but no words came. Then Satan said:
"Three saw that I threw no stone. Perhaps there are others; let them
It struck a kind of panic into them, and, although no one answered him,
many began to violently accuse one another, saying, "You said he didn't
throw," and getting for reply, "It is a lie, and I will make you eat it!"
And so in a moment they were in a raging and noisy turmoil, and beating
and banging one another; and in the midst was the only indifferent one—the
dead lady hanging from her rope, her troubles forgotten, her spirit at
So we walked away, and I was not at ease, but was saying to myself, "He
told them he was laughing at them, but it was a lie—he was laughing
That made him laugh again, and he said, "Yes, I was laughing at you,
because, in fear of what others might report about you, you stoned the
woman when your heart revolted at the act—but I was laughing at the
"Because their case was yours."
"How is that?"
"Well, there were sixty-eight people there, and sixty-two of them had no
more desire to throw a stone than you had."
"Oh, it's true. I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is governed
by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelings
and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise.
Sometimes the noisy handful is right, sometimes wrong; but no matter, the
crowd follows it. The vast majority of the race, whether savage or
civilized, are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting pain, but
in the presence of the aggressive and pitiless minority they don't dare to
assert themselves. Think of it! One kind-hearted creature spies upon
another, and sees to it that he loyally helps in iniquities which revolt
both of them. Speaking as an expert, I know that ninety-nine out of a
hundred of your race were strongly against the killing of witches when
that foolishness was first agitated by a handful of pious lunatics in the
long ago. And I know that even to-day, after ages of transmitted prejudice
and silly teaching, only one person in twenty puts any real heart into the
harrying of a witch. And yet apparently everybody hates witches and wants
them killed. Some day a handful will rise up on the other side and make
the most noise—perhaps even a single daring man with a big voice and
a determined front will do it—and in a week all the sheep will wheel
and follow him, and witch-hunting will come to a sudden end.
"Monarchies, aristocracies, and religions are all based upon that large
defect in your race—the individual's distrust of his neighbor, and
his desire, for safety's or comfort's sake, to stand well in his
neighbor's eye. These institutions will always remain, and always
flourish, and always oppress you, affront you, and degrade you, because
you will always be and remain slaves of minorities. There was never a
country where the majority of the people were in their secret hearts loyal
to any of these institutions."
I did not like to hear our race called sheep, and said I did not think
"Still, it is true, lamb," said Satan. "Look at you in war—what
mutton you are, and how ridiculous!"
"In war? How?"
"There has never been a just one, never an honorable one—on the part
of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this
rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud
little handful—as usual—will shout for the war. The pulpit
will—warily and cautiously—object—at first; the great,
big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out
why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, "It is
unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it." Then the
handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and
reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a
hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will
outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose
popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers
stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious
men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers—as
earlier—but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation—pulpit
and all—will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob
any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths
will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the
blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of
those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and
refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by
convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better
sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."
Days and days went by now, and no Satan. It was dull without him. But the
astrologer, who had returned from his excursion to the moon, went about
the village, braving public opinion, and getting a stone in the middle of
his back now and then when some witch-hater got a safe chance to throw it
and dodge out of sight. Meantime two influences had been working well for
Marget. That Satan, who was quite indifferent to her, had stopped going to
her house after a visit or two had hurt her pride, and she had set herself
the task of banishing him from her heart. Reports of Wilhelm Meidling's
dissipation brought to her from time to time by old Ursula had touched her
with remorse, jealousy of Satan being the cause of it; and so now, these
two matters working upon her together, she was getting a good profit out
of the combination—her interest in Satan was steadily cooling, her
interest in Wilhelm as steadily warming. All that was needed to complete
her conversion was that Wilhelm should brace up and do something that
should cause favorable talk and incline the public toward him again.
The opportunity came now. Marget sent and asked him to defend her uncle in
the approaching trial, and he was greatly pleased, and stopped drinking
and began his preparations with diligence. With more diligence than hope,
in fact, for it was not a promising case. He had many interviews in his
office with Seppi and me, and threshed out our testimony pretty
thoroughly, thinking to find some valuable grains among the chaff, but the
harvest was poor, of course.
If Satan would only come! That was my constant thought. He could invent
some way to win the case; for he had said it would be won, so he
necessarily knew how it could be done. But the days dragged on, and still
he did not come. Of course I did not doubt that it would be won, and that
Father Peter would be happy for the rest of his life, since Satan had said
so; yet I knew I should be much more comfortable if he would come and tell
us how to manage it. It was getting high time for Father Peter to have a
saving change toward happiness, for by general report he was worn out with
his imprisonment and the ignominy that was burdening him, and was like to
die of his miseries unless he got relief soon.
At last the trial came on, and the people gathered from all around to
witness it; among them many strangers from considerable distances. Yes,
everybody was there except the accused. He was too feeble in body for the
strain. But Marget was present, and keeping up her hope and her spirit the
best she could. The money was present, too. It was emptied on the table,
and was handled and caressed and examined by such as were privileged.
The astrologer was put in the witness-box. He had on his best hat and robe
for the occasion.
QUESTION. You claim that this money is yours?
ANSWER. I do.
Q. How did you come by it?
A. I found the bag in the road when I was returning from a journey.
A. More than two years ago.
Q. What did you do with it?
A. I brought it home and hid it in a secret place in my observatory,
intending to find the owner if I could.
Q. You endeavored to find him?
A. I made diligent inquiry during several months, but nothing came of it.
Q. And then?
A. I thought it not worth while to look further, and was minded to use the
money in finishing the wing of the foundling-asylum connected with the
priory and nunnery. So I took it out of its hiding-place and counted it to
see if any of it was missing. And then—
Q. Why do you stop? Proceed.
A. I am sorry to have to say this, but just as I had finished and was
restoring the bag to its place, I looked up and there stood Father Peter
Several murmured, "That looks bad," but others answered, "Ah, but he is
such a liar!"
Q. That made you uneasy?
A. No; I thought nothing of it at the time, for Father Peter often came to
me unannounced to ask for a little help in his need.
Marget blushed crimson at hearing her uncle falsely and impudently charged
with begging, especially from one he had always denounced as a fraud, and
was going to speak, but remembered herself in time and held her peace.
A. In the end I was afraid to contribute the money to the
foundling-asylum, but elected to wait yet another year and continue my
inquiries. When I heard of Father Peter's find I was glad, and no
suspicion entered my mind; when I came home a day or two later and
discovered that my own money was gone I still did not suspect until three
circumstances connected with Father Peter's good fortune struck me as
being singular coincidences.
Q. Pray name them.
A. Father Peter had found his money in a path—I had found mine in a
road. Father Peter's find consisted exclusively of gold ducats—mine
also. Father Peter found eleven hundred and seven ducats—I exactly
This closed his evidence, and certainly it made a strong impression on the
house; one could see that.
Wilhelm Meidling asked him some questions, then called us boys, and we
told our tale. It made the people laugh, and we were ashamed. We were
feeling pretty badly, anyhow, because Wilhelm was hopeless, and showed it.
He was doing as well as he could, poor young fellow, but nothing was in
his favor, and such sympathy as there was was now plainly not with his
client. It might be difficult for court and people to believe the
astrologer's story, considering his character, but it was almost
impossible to believe Father Peter's. We were already feeling badly
enough, but when the astrologer's lawyer said he believed he would not ask
us any questions—for our story was a little delicate and it would be
cruel for him to put any strain upon it—everybody tittered, and it
was almost more than we could bear. Then he made a sarcastic little
speech, and got so much fun out of our tale, and it seemed so ridiculous
and childish and every way impossible and foolish, that it made everybody
laugh till the tears came; and at last Marget could not keep up her
courage any longer, but broke down and cried, and I was so sorry for her.
Now I noticed something that braced me up. It was Satan standing alongside
of Wilhelm! And there was such a contrast!—Satan looked so
confident, had such a spirit in his eyes and face, and Wilhelm looked so
depressed and despondent. We two were comfortable now, and judged that he
would testify and persuade the bench and the people that black was white
and white black, or any other color he wanted it. We glanced around to see
what the strangers in the house thought of him, for he was beautiful, you
know—stunning, in fact—but no one was noticing him; so we knew
by that that he was invisible.
The lawyer was saying his last words; and while he was saying them Satan
began to melt into Wilhelm. He melted into him and disappeared; and then
there was a change, when his spirit began to look out of Wilhelm's eyes.
That lawyer finished quite seriously, and with dignity. He pointed to the
money, and said:
"The love of it is the root of all evil. There it lies, the ancient
tempter, newly red with the shame of its latest victory—the dishonor
of a priest of God and his two poor juvenile helpers in crime. If it could
but speak, let us hope that it would be constrained to confess that of all
its conquests this was the basest and the most pathetic."
He sat down. Wilhelm rose and said:
"From the testimony of the accuser I gather that he found this money in a
road more than two years ago. Correct me, sir, if I misunderstood you."
The astrologer said his understanding of it was correct.
"And the money so found was never out of his hands thenceforth up to a
certain definite date—the last day of last year. Correct me, sir, if
I am wrong."
The astrologer nodded his head. Wilhelm turned to the bench and said:
"If I prove that this money here was not that money, then it is not his?"
"Certainly not; but this is irregular. If you had such a witness it was
your duty to give proper notice of it and have him here to—" He
broke off and began to consult with the other judges. Meantime that other
lawyer got up excited and began to protest against allowing new witnesses
to be brought into the case at this late stage.
The judges decided that his contention was just and must be allowed.
"But this is not a new witness," said Wilhelm. "It has already been partly
examined. I speak of the coin."
"The coin? What can the coin say?"
"It can say it is not the coin that the astrologer once possessed. It can
say it was not in existence last December. By its date it can say this."
And it was so! There was the greatest excitement in the court while that
lawyer and the judges were reaching for coins and examining them and
exclaiming. And everybody was full of admiration of Wilhelm's brightness
in happening to think of that neat idea. At last order was called and the
"All of the coins but four are of the date of the present year. The court
tenders its sincere sympathy to the accused, and its deep regret that he,
an innocent man, through an unfortunate mistake, has suffered the
undeserved humiliation of imprisonment and trial. The case is dismissed."
So the money could speak, after all, though that lawyer thought it
couldn't. The court rose, and almost everybody came forward to shake hands
with Marget and congratulate her, and then to shake with Wilhelm and
praise him; and Satan had stepped out of Wilhelm and was standing around
looking on full of interest, and people walking through him every which
way, not knowing he was there. And Wilhelm could not explain why he only
thought of the date on the coins at the last moment, instead of earlier;
he said it just occurred to him, all of a sudden, like an inspiration, and
he brought it right out without any hesitation, for, although he didn't
examine the coins, he seemed, somehow, to know it was true. That was
honest of him, and like him; another would have pretended he had thought
of it earlier, and was keeping it back for a surprise.
He had dulled down a little now; not much, but still you could notice that
he hadn't that luminous look in his eyes that he had while Satan was in
him. He nearly got it back, though, for a moment when Marget came and
praised him and thanked him and couldn't keep him from seeing how proud
she was of him. The astrologer went off dissatisfied and cursing, and
Solomon Isaacs gathered up the money and carried it away. It was Father
Peter's for good and all, now.
Satan was gone. I judged that he had spirited himself away to the jail to
tell the prisoner the news; and in this I was right. Marget and the rest
of us hurried thither at our best speed, in a great state of rejoicing.
Well, what Satan had done was this: he had appeared before that poor
prisoner, exclaiming, "The trial is over, and you stand forever disgraced
as a thief—by verdict of the court!"
The shock unseated the old man's reason. When we arrived, ten minutes
later, he was parading pompously up and down and delivering commands to
this and that and the other constable or jailer, and calling them Grand
chamberlain, and Prince This and Prince That, and Admiral of the Fleet,
Field Marshal in Command, and all such fustian, and was as happy as a
bird. He thought he was Emperor!
Marget flung herself on his breast and cried, and indeed everybody was
moved almost to heartbreak. He recognized Marget, but could not understand
why she should cry. He patted her on the shoulder and said:
"Don't do it, dear; remember, there are witnesses, and it is not becoming
in the Crown Princess. Tell me your trouble—it shall be mended;
there is nothing the Emperor cannot do." Then he looked around and saw old
Ursula with her apron to her eyes. He was puzzled at that, and said, "And
what is the matter with you?"
Through her sobs she got out words explaining that she was distressed to
see him—"so." He reflected over that a moment, then muttered, as if
to himself: "A singular old thing, the Dowager Duchess—means well,
but is always snuffling and never able to tell what it is about. It is
because she doesn't know." His eyes fell on Wilhelm. "Prince of India," he
said, "I divine that it is you that the Crown Princess is concerned about.
Her tears shall be dried; I will no longer stand between you; she shall
share your throne; and between you you shall inherit mine. There, little
lady, have I done well? You can smile now—isn't it so?"
He petted Marget and kissed her, and was so contented with himself and
with everybody that he could not do enough for us all, but began to give
away kingdoms and such things right and left, and the least that any of us
got was a principality. And so at last, being persuaded to go home, he
marched in imposing state; and when the crowds along the way saw how it
gratified him to be hurrahed at, they humored him to the top of his
desire, and he responded with condescending bows and gracious smiles, and
often stretched out a hand and said, "Bless you, my people!"
As pitiful a sight as ever I saw. And Marget, and old Ursula crying all
On my road home I came upon Satan, and reproached him with deceiving me
with that lie. He was not embarrassed, but said, quite simply and
"Ah, you mistake; it was the truth. I said he would be happy the rest of
his days, and he will, for he will always think he is the Emperor, and his
pride in it and his joy in it will endure to the end. He is now, and will
remain, the one utterly happy person in this empire."
"But the method of it, Satan, the method! Couldn't you have done it
without depriving him of his reason?"
It was difficult to irritate Satan, but that accomplished it.
"What an ass you are!" he said. "Are you so unobservant as not to have
found out that sanity and happiness are an impossible combination? No sane
man can be happy, for to him life is real, and he sees what a fearful
thing it is. Only the mad can be happy, and not many of those. The few
that imagine themselves kings or gods are happy, the rest are no happier
than the sane. Of course, no man is entirely in his right mind at any
time, but I have been referring to the extreme cases. I have taken from
this man that trumpery thing which the race regards as a Mind; I have
replaced his tin life with a silver-gilt fiction; you see the result—and
you criticize! I said I would make him permanently happy, and I have done
it. I have made him happy by the only means possible to his race—and
you are not satisfied!" He heaved a discouraged sigh, and said, "It seems
to me that this race is hard to please."
There it was, you see. He didn't seem to know any way to do a person a
favor except by killing him or making a lunatic out of him. I apologized,
as well as I could; but privately I did not think much of his processes—at
Satan was accustomed to say that our race lived a life of continuous and
uninterrupted self-deception. It duped itself from cradle to grave with
shams and delusions which it mistook for realities, and this made its
entire life a sham. Of the score of fine qualities which it imagined it
had and was vain of, it really possessed hardly one. It regarded itself as
gold, and was only brass. One day when he was in this vein he mentioned a
detail—the sense of humor. I cheered up then, and took issue. I said
we possessed it.
"There spoke the race!" he said; "always ready to claim what it hasn't
got, and mistake its ounce of brass filings for a ton of gold-dust. You
have a mongrel perception of humor, nothing more; a multitude of you
possess that. This multitude see the comic side of a thousand low-grade
and trivial things—broad incongruities, mainly; grotesqueries,
absurdities, evokers of the horse-laugh. The ten thousand high-grade
comicalities which exist in the world are sealed from their dull vision.
Will a day come when the race will detect the funniness of these
juvenilities and laugh at them—and by laughing at them destroy them?
For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective
weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these
can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a
little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and
atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. You
are always fussing and fighting with your other weapons. Do you ever use
that one? No; you leave it lying rusting. As a race, do you ever use it at
all? No; you lack sense and the courage."
We were traveling at the time and stopped at a little city in India and
looked on while a juggler did his tricks before a group of natives. They
were wonderful, but I knew Satan could beat that game, and I begged him to
show off a little, and he said he would. He changed himself into a native
in turban and breech-cloth, and very considerately conferred on me a
temporary knowledge of the language.
The juggler exhibited a seed, covered it with earth in a small flower-pot,
then put a rag over the pot; after a minute the rag began to rise; in ten
minutes it had risen a foot; then the rag was removed and a little tree
was exposed, with leaves upon it and ripe fruit. We ate the fruit, and it
was good. But Satan said:
"Why do you cover the pot? Can't you grow the tree in the sunlight?"
"No," said the juggler; "no one can do that."
"You are only an apprentice; you don't know your trade. Give me the seed.
I will show you." He took the seed and said, "What shall I raise from it?"
"It is a cherry seed; of course you will raise a cherry."
"Oh no; that is a trifle; any novice can do that. Shall I raise an
orange-tree from it?"
"Oh yes!" and the juggler laughed.
"And shall I make it bear other fruits as well as oranges?"
"If God wills!" and they all laughed.
Satan put the seed in the ground, put a handful of dust on it, and said,
A tiny stem shot up and began to grow, and grew so fast that in five
minutes it was a great tree, and we were sitting in the shade of it. There
was a murmur of wonder, then all looked up and saw a strange and pretty
sight, for the branches were heavy with fruits of many kinds and colors—oranges,
grapes, bananas, peaches, cherries, apricots, and so on. Baskets were
brought, and the unlading of the tree began; and the people crowded around
Satan and kissed his hand, and praised him, calling him the prince of
jugglers. The news went about the town, and everybody came running to see
the wonder—and they remembered to bring baskets, too. But the tree
was equal to the occasion; it put out new fruits as fast as any were
removed; baskets were filled by the score and by the hundred, but always
the supply remained undiminished. At last a foreigner in white linen and
sun-helmet arrived, and exclaimed, angrily:
"Away from here! Clear out, you dogs; the tree is on my lands and is my
The natives put down their baskets and made humble obeisance. Satan made
humble obeisance, too, with his fingers to his forehead, in the native
way, and said:
"Please let them have their pleasure for an hour, sir—only that, and
no longer. Afterward you may forbid them; and you will still have more
fruit than you and the state together can consume in a year."
This made the foreigner very angry, and he cried out, "Who are you, you
vagabond, to tell your betters what they may do and what they mayn't!" and
he struck Satan with his cane and followed this error with a kick.
The fruits rotted on the branches, and the leaves withered and fell. The
foreigner gazed at the bare limbs with the look of one who is surprised,
and not gratified. Satan said:
"Take good care of the tree, for its health and yours are bound together.
It will never bear again, but if you tend it well it will live long. Water
its roots once in each hour every night—and do it yourself; it must
not be done by proxy, and to do it in daylight will not answer. If you
fail only once in any night, the tree will die, and you likewise. Do not
go home to your own country any more—you would not reach there; make
no business or pleasure engagements which require you to go outside your
gate at night—you cannot afford the risk; do not rent or sell this
place—it would be injudicious."
The foreigner was proud and wouldn't beg, but I thought he looked as if he
would like to. While he stood gazing at Satan we vanished away and landed
I was sorry for that man; sorry Satan hadn't been his customary self and
killed him or made him a lunatic. It would have been a mercy. Satan
overheard the thought, and said:
"I would have done it but for his wife, who has not offended me. She is
coming to him presently from their native land, Portugal. She is well, but
has not long to live, and has been yearning to see him and persuade him to
go back with her next year. She will die without knowing he can't leave
"He won't tell her?"
"He? He will not trust that secret with any one; he will reflect that it
could be revealed in sleep, in the hearing of some Portuguese guest's
servant some time or other."
"Did none of those natives understand what you said to him?"
"None of them understood, but he will always be afraid that some of them
did. That fear will be torture to him, for he has been a harsh master to
them. In his dreams he will imagine them chopping his tree down. That will
make his days uncomfortable—I have already arranged for his nights."
It grieved me, though not sharply, to see him take such a malicious
satisfaction in his plans for this foreigner.
"Does he believe what you told him, Satan?"
"He thought he didn't, but our vanishing helped. The tree, where there had
been no tree before—that helped. The insane and uncanny variety of
fruits—the sudden withering—all these things are helps. Let
him think as he may, reason as he may, one thing is certain, he will water
the tree. But between this and night he will begin his changed career with
a very natural precaution—for him."
"What is that?"
"He will fetch a priest to cast out the tree's devil. You are such a
humorous race—and don't suspect it."
"Will he tell the priest?"
"No. He will say a juggler from Bombay created it, and that he wants the
juggler's devil driven out of it, so that it will thrive and be fruitful
again. The priest's incantations will fail; then the Portuguese will give
up that scheme and get his watering-pot ready."
"But the priest will burn the tree. I know it; he will not allow it to
"Yes, and anywhere in Europe he would burn the man, too. But in India the
people are civilized, and these things will not happen. The man will drive
the priest away and take care of the tree."
I reflected a little, then said, "Satan, you have given him a hard life, I
"Comparatively. It must not be mistaken for a holiday."
We flitted from place to place around the world as we had done before,
Satan showing me a hundred wonders, most of them reflecting in some way
the weakness and triviality of our race. He did this now every few days—not
out of malice—I am sure of that—it only seemed to amuse and
interest him, just as a naturalist might be amused and interested by a
collection of ants.
For as much as a year Satan continued these visits, but at last he came
less often, and then for a long time he did not come at all. This always
made me lonely and melancholy. I felt that he was losing interest in our
tiny world and might at any time abandon his visits entirely. When one day
he finally came to me I was overjoyed, but only for a little while. He had
come to say good-by, he told me, and for the last time. He had
investigations and undertakings in other corners of the universe, he said,
that would keep him busy for a longer period than I could wait for his
"And you are going away, and will not come back any more?"
"Yes," he said. "We have comraded long together, and it has been pleasant—pleasant
for both; but I must go now, and we shall not see each other any more."
"In this life, Satan, but in another? We shall meet in another, surely?"
Then, all tranquilly and soberly, he made the strange answer, "There is no
A subtle influence blew upon my spirit from his, bringing with it a vague,
dim, but blessed and hopeful feeling that the incredible words might be
true—even must be true.
"Have you never suspected this, Theodor?"
"No. How could I? But if it can only be true—"
"It is true."
A gust of thankfulness rose in my breast, but a doubt checked it before it
could issue in words, and I said, "But—but—we have seen that
future life—seen it in its actuality, and so—"
"It was a vision—it had no existence."
I could hardly breathe for the great hope that was struggling in me. "A
"Life itself is only a vision, a dream."
It was electrical. By God! I had had that very thought a thousand times in
"Nothing exists; all is a dream. God—man—the world—the
sun, the moon, the wilderness of stars—a dream, all a dream; they
have no existence. Nothing exists save empty space—and you!"
"And you are not you—you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are
but a thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream—your
dream, creature of your imagination. In a moment you will have realized
this, then you will banish me from your visions and I shall dissolve into
the nothingness out of which you made me....
"I am perishing already—I am failing—I am passing away. In a
little while you will be alone in shoreless space, to wander its limitless
solitudes without friend or comrade forever—for you will remain a
thought, the only existent thought, and by your nature inextinguishable,
indestructible. But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself
and set you free. Dream other dreams, and better!
"Strange! that you should not have suspected years ago—centuries,
ages, eons, ago!—for you have existed, companionless, through all
the eternities. Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that
your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction!
Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane—like
all dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet
preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy,
yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life,
yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned,
yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless
lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of
mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell—mouths mercy and
invented hell—mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by
seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people
and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who
created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility
for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs,
upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this
poor, abused slave to worship him!...
"You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in a
dream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the silly
creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks—in a
word, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marks are
all present; you should have recognized them earlier.
"It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no
universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a
dream—a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you
are but a thought—a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless
thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!"
He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he
had said was true.
Once upon a time an artist who had painted a small and very beautiful
picture placed it so that he could see it in the mirror. He said, "This
doubles the distance and softens it, and it is twice as lovely as it was
The animals out in the woods heard of this through the housecat, who was
greatly admired by them because he was so learned, and so refined and
civilized, and so polite and high-bred, and could tell them so much which
they didn't know before, and were not certain about afterward. They were
much excited about this new piece of gossip, and they asked questions, so
as to get at a full understanding of it. They asked what a picture was,
and the cat explained.
"It is a flat thing," he said; "wonderfully flat, marvelously flat,
enchantingly flat and elegant. And, oh, so beautiful!"
That excited them almost to a frenzy, and they said they would give the
world to see it. Then the bear asked:
"What is it that makes it so beautiful?"
"It is the looks of it," said the cat.
This filled them with admiration and uncertainty, and they were more
excited than ever. Then the cow asked:
"What is a mirror?"
"It is a hole in the wall," said the cat. "You look in it, and there you
see the picture, and it is so dainty and charming and ethereal and
inspiring in its unimaginable beauty that your head turns round and round,
and you almost swoon with ecstasy."
The ass had not said anything as yet; he now began to throw doubts. He
said there had never been anything as beautiful as this before, and
probably wasn't now. He said that when it took a whole basketful of
sesquipedalian adjectives to whoop up a thing of beauty, it was time for
It was easy to see that these doubts were having an effect upon the
animals, so the cat went off offended. The subject was dropped for a
couple of days, but in the meantime curiosity was taking a fresh start,
aid there was a revival of interest perceptible. Then the animals assailed
the ass for spoiling what could possibly have been a pleasure to them, on
a mere suspicion that the picture was not beautiful, without any evidence
that such was the case. The ass was not, troubled; he was calm, and said
there was one way to find out who was in the right, himself or the cat: he
would go and look in that hole, and come back and tell what he found
there. The animals felt relieved and grateful, and asked him to go at once—which
But he did not know where he ought to stand; and so, through error, he
stood between the picture and the mirror. The result was that the picture
had no chance, and didn't show up. He returned home and said:
"The cat lied. There was nothing in that hole but an ass. There wasn't a
sign of a flat thing visible. It was a handsome ass, and friendly, but
just an ass, and nothing more."
The elephant asked:
"Did you see it good and clear? Were you close to it?"
"I saw it good and clear, O Hathi, King of Beasts. I was so close that I
touched noses with it."
"This is very strange," said the elephant; "the cat was always truthful
before—as far as we could make out. Let another witness try. Go,
Baloo, look in the hole, and come and report."
So the bear went. When he came back, he said:
"Both the cat and the ass have lied; there was nothing in the hole but a
Great was the surprise and puzzlement of the animals. Each was now anxious
to make the test himself and get at the straight truth. The elephant sent
them one at a time.
First, the cow. She found nothing in the hole but a cow.
The tiger found nothing in it but a tiger.
The lion found nothing in it but a lion.
The leopard found nothing in it but a leopard.
The camel found a camel, and nothing more.
Then Hathi was wroth, and said he would have the truth, if he had to go
and fetch it himself. When he returned, he abused his whole subjectry for
liars, and was in an unappeasable fury with the moral and mental blindness
of the cat. He said that anybody but a near-sighted fool could see that
there was nothing in the hole but an elephant.
MORAL, BY THE CAT
You can find in a text whatever you bring, if you will stand between it
and the mirror of your imagination. You may not see your ears, but they
will be there.
HUNTING THE DECEITFUL TURKEY
When I was a boy my uncle and his big boys hunted with the rifle, the
youngest boy Fred and I with a shotgun—a small single-barrelled
shotgun which was properly suited to our size and strength; it was not
much heavier than a broom. We carried it turn about, half an hour at a
time. I was not able to hit anything with it, but I liked to try. Fred and
I hunted feathered small game, the others hunted deer, squirrels, wild
turkeys, and such things. My uncle and the big boys were good shots. They
killed hawks and wild geese and such like on the wing; and they didn't
wound or kill squirrels, they stunned them. When the dogs treed a
squirrel, the squirrel would scamper aloft and run out on a limb and
flatten himself along it, hoping to make himself invisible in that way—and
not quite succeeding. You could see his wee little ears sticking up. You
couldn't see his nose, but you knew where it was. Then the hunter,
despising a "rest" for his rifle, stood up and took offhand aim at the
limb and sent a bullet into it immediately under the squirrel's nose, and
down tumbled the animal, unwounded, but unconscious; the dogs gave him a
shake and he was dead. Sometimes when the distance was great and the wind
not accurately allowed for, the bullet would hit the squirrel's head; the
dogs could do as they pleased with that one—the hunter's pride was
hurt, and he wouldn't allow it to go into the gamebag.
In the first faint gray of the dawn the stately wild turkeys would be
stalking around in great flocks, and ready to be sociable and answer
invitations to come and converse with other excursionists of their kind.
The hunter concealed himself and imitated the turkey-call by sucking the
air through the leg-bone of a turkey which had previously answered a call
like that and lived only just long enough to regret it. There is nothing
that furnishes a perfect turkey-call except that bone. Another of Nature's
treacheries, you see. She is full of them; half the time she doesn't know
which she likes best—to betray her child or protect it. In the case
of the turkey she is badly mixed: she gives it a bone to be used in
getting it into trouble, and she also furnishes it with a trick for
getting itself out of the trouble again. When a mamma-turkey answers an
invitation and finds she has made a mistake in accepting it, she does as
the mamma-partridge does—remembers a previous engagement—and
goes limping and scrambling away, pretending to be very lame; and at the
same time she is saying to her not-visible children, "Lie low, keep still,
don't expose yourselves; I shall be back as soon as I have beguiled this
shabby swindler out of the country."
When a person is ignorant and confiding, this immoral device can have
tiresome results. I followed an ostensibly lame turkey over a considerable
part of the United States one morning, because I believed in her and could
not think she would deceive a mere boy, and one who was trusting her and
considering her honest. I had the single-barrelled shotgun, but my idea
was to catch her alive. I often got within rushing distance of her, and
then made my rush; but always, just as I made my final plunge and put my
hand down where her back had been, it wasn't there; it was only two or
three inches from there and I brushed the tail-feathers as I landed on my
stomach—a very close call, but still not quite close enough; that
is, not close enough for success, but just close enough to convince me
that I could do it next time. She always waited for me, a little piece
away, and let on to be resting and greatly fatigued; which was a lie, but
I believed it, for I still thought her honest long after I ought to have
begun to doubt her, suspecting that this was no way for a high-minded bird
to be acting. I followed, and followed, and followed, making my periodical
rushes, and getting up and brushing the dust off, and resuming the voyage
with patient confidence; indeed, with a confidence which grew, for I could
see by the change of climate and vegetation that we were getting up into
the high latitudes, and as she always looked a little tireder and a little
more discouraged after each rush, I judged that I was safe to win, in the
end, the competition being purely a matter of staying power and the
advantage lying with me from the start because she was lame.
Along in the afternoon I began to feel fatigued myself. Neither of us had
had any rest since we first started on the excursion, which was upwards of
ten hours before, though latterly we had paused awhile after rushes, I
letting on to be thinking about something else; but neither of us sincere,
and both of us waiting for the other to call game but in no real hurry
about it, for indeed those little evanescent snatches of rest were very
grateful to the feelings of us both; it would naturally be so, skirmishing
along like that ever since dawn and not a bite in the meantime; at least
for me, though sometimes as she lay on her side fanning herself with a
wing and praying for strength to get out of this difficulty a grasshopper
happened along whose time had come, and that was well for her, and
fortunate, but I had nothing—nothing the whole day.
More than once, after I was very tired, I gave up taking her alive, and
was going to shoot her, but I never did it, although it was my right, for
I did not believe I could hit her; and besides, she always stopped and
posed, when I raised the gun, and this made me suspicious that she knew
about me and my marksmanship, and so I did not care to expose myself to
I did not get her, at all. When she got tired of the game at last, she
rose from almost under my hand and flew aloft with the rush and whir of a
shell and lit on the highest limb of a great tree and sat down and crossed
her legs and smiled down at me, and seemed gratified to see me so
I was ashamed, and also lost; and it was while wandering the woods hunting
for myself that I found a deserted log cabin and had one of the best meals
there that in my life-days I have eaten. The weed-grown garden was full of
ripe tomatoes, and I ate them ravenously, though I had never liked them
before. Not more than two or three times since have I tasted anything that
was so delicious as those tomatoes. I surfeited myself with them, and did
not taste another one until I was in middle life. I can eat them now, but
I do not like the look of them. I suppose we have all experienced a
surfeit at one time or another. Once, in stress of circumstances, I ate
part of a barrel of sardines, there being nothing else at hand, but since
then I have always been able to get along without sardines.
THE McWILLIAMSES AND THE BURGLAR ALARM
The conversation drifted smoothly and pleasantly along from weather to
crops, from crops to literature, from literature to scandal, from scandal
to religion; then took a random jump, and landed on the subject of burglar
alarms. And now for the first time Mr. McWilliams showed feeling. Whenever
I perceive this sign on this man's dial, I comprehend it, and lapse into
silence, and give him opportunity to unload his heart. Said he, with but
"I do not go one single cent on burglar alarms, Mr. Twain—not a
single cent—and I will tell you why. When we were finishing our
house, we found we had a little cash left over, on account of the plumber
not knowing it. I was for enlightening the heathen with it, for I was
always unaccountably down on the heathen somehow; but Mrs. McWilliams said
no, let's have a burglar alarm. I agreed to this compromise. I will
explain that whenever I want a thing, and Mrs. McWilliams wants another
thing, and we decide upon the thing that Mrs. McWilliams wants—as we
always do—she calls that a compromise. Very well: the man came up
from New York and put in the alarm, and charged three hundred and
twenty-five dollars for it, and said we could sleep without uneasiness
now. So we did for awhile—say a month. Then one night we smelled
smoke, and I was advised to get up and see what the matter was. I lit a
candle, and started toward the stairs, and met a burglar coming out of a
room with a basket of tinware, which he had mistaken for solid silver in
the dark. He was smoking a pipe. I said, 'My friend, we do not allow
smoking in this room.' He said he was a stranger, and could not be
expected to know the rules of the house: said he had been in many houses
just as good as this one, and it had never been objected to before. He
added that as far as his experience went, such rules had never been
considered to apply to burglars, anyway.
"I said: 'Smoke along, then, if it is the custom, though I think that the
conceding of a privilege to a burglar which is denied to a bishop is a
conspicuous sign of the looseness of the times. But waiving all that, what
business have you to be entering this house in this furtive and
clandestine way, without ringing the burglar alarm?'
"He looked confused and ashamed, and said, with embarrassment: 'I beg a
thousand pardons. I did not know you had a burglar alarm, else I would
have rung it. I beg you will not mention it where my parents may hear of
it, for they are old and feeble, and such a seemingly wanton breach of the
hallowed conventionalities of our Christian civilization might all too
rudely sunder the frail bridge which hangs darkling between the pale and
evanescent present and the solemn great deeps of the eternities. May I
trouble you for a match?'
"I said: 'Your sentiments do you honor, but if you will allow me to say
it, metaphor is not your best hold. Spare your thigh; this kind light only
on the box, and seldom there, in fact, if my experience may be trusted.
But to return to business: how did you get in here?'
"'Through a second-story window.'
"It was even so. I redeemed the tinware at pawnbroker's rates, less cost
of advertising, bade the burglar good-night, closed the window after him,
and retired to headquarters to report. Next morning we sent for the
burglar-alarm man, and he came up and explained that the reason the alarm
did not 'go off' was that no part of the house but the first floor was
attached to the alarm. This was simply idiotic; one might as well have no
armor on at all in battle as to have it only on his legs. The expert now
put the whole second story on the alarm, charged three hundred dollars for
it, and went his way. By and by, one night, I found a burglar in the third
story, about to start down a ladder with a lot of miscellaneous property.
My first impulse was to crack his head with a billiard cue; but my second
was to refrain from this attention, because he was between me and the cue
rack. The second impulse was plainly the soundest, so I refrained, and
proceeded to compromise. I redeemed the property at former rates, after
deducting ten per cent. for use of ladder, it being my ladder, and, next
day we sent down for the expert once more, and had the third story
attached to the alarm, for three hundred dollars.
"By this time the 'annunciator' had grown to formidable dimensions. It had
forty-seven tags on it, marked with the names of the various rooms and
chimneys, and it occupied the space of an ordinary wardrobe. The gong was
the size of a wash-bowl, and was placed above the head of our bed. There
was a wire from the house to the coachman's quarters in the stable, and a
noble gong alongside his pillow.
"We should have been comfortable now but for one defect. Every morning at
five the cook opened the kitchen door, in the way of business, and rip
went that gong! The first time this happened I thought the last day was
come sure. I didn't think it in bed—no, but out of it—for the
first effect of that frightful gong is to hurl you across the house, and
slam you against the wall, and then curl you up, and squirm you like a
spider on a stove lid, till somebody shuts the kitchen door. In solid
fact, there is no clamor that is even remotely comparable to the dire
clamor which that gong makes. Well, this catastrophe happened every
morning regularly at five o'clock, and lost us three hours sleep; for,
mind you, when that thing wakes you, it doesn't merely wake you in spots;
it wakes you all over, conscience and all, and you are good for eighteen
hours of wide-awakeness subsequently—eighteen hours of the very most
inconceivable wide-awakeness that you ever experienced in your life. A
stranger died on our hands one time, aid we vacated and left him in our
room overnight. Did that stranger wait for the general judgment? No, sir;
he got up at five the next morning in the most prompt and unostentatious
way. I knew he would; I knew it mighty well. He collected his
life-insurance, and lived happy ever after, for there was plenty of proof
as to the perfect squareness of his death.
"Well, we were gradually fading toward a better land, on account of the
daily loss of sleep; so we finally had the expert up again, and he ran a
wire to the outside of the door, and placed a switch there, whereby
Thomas, the butler, always made one little mistake—he switched the
alarm off at night when he went to bed, and switched it on again at
daybreak in the morning, just in time for the cook to open the kitchen
door, and enable that gong to slam us across the house, sometimes breaking
a window with one or the other of us. At the end of a week we recognized
that this switch business was a delusion and a snare. We also discovered
that a band of burglars had been lodging in the house the whole time—not
exactly to steal, for there wasn't much left now, but to hide from the
police, for they were hot pressed, and they shrewdly judged that the
detectives would never think of a tribe of burglars taking sanctuary in a
house notoriously protected by the most imposing and elaborate burglar
alarm in America.
"Sent down for the expert again, and this time he struck a most dazzling
idea—he fixed the thing so that opening the kitchen door would take
off the alarm. It was a noble idea, and he charged accordingly. But you
already foresee the result. I switched on the alarm every night at
bed-time, no longer trusting on Thomas's frail memory; and as soon as the
lights were out the burglars walked in at the kitchen door, thus taking
the alarm off without waiting for the cook to do it in the morning. You
see how aggravatingly we were situated. For months we couldn't have any
company. Not a spare bed in the house; all occupied by burglars.
"Finally, I got up a cure of my own. The expert answered the call, and ran
another ground wire to the stable, and established a switch there, so that
the coachman could put on and take off the alarm. That worked first rate,
and a season of peace ensued, during which we got to inviting company once
more and enjoying life.
"But by and by the irrepressible alarm invented a new kink. One winter's
night we were flung out of bed by the sudden music of that awful gong, and
when we hobbled to the annunciator, turned up the gas, and saw the word
'Nursery' exposed, Mrs. McWilliams fainted dead away, and I came precious
near doing the same thing myself. I seized my shotgun, and stood timing
the coachman whilst that appalling buzzing went on. I knew that his gong
had flung him out, too, and that he would be along with his gun as soon as
he could jump into his clothes. When I judged that the time was ripe, I
crept to the room next the nursery, glanced through the window, and saw
the dim outline of the coachman in the yard below, standing at
present-arms and waiting for a chance. Then I hopped into the nursery and
fired, and in the same instant the coachman fired at the red flash of my
gun. Both of us were successful; I crippled a nurse, and he shot off all
my back hair. We turned up the gas, and telephoned for a surgeon. There
was not a sign of a burglar, and no window had been raised. One glass was
absent, but that was where the coachman's charge had come through. Here
was a fine mystery—a burglar alarm 'going off' at midnight of its
own accord, and not a burglar in the neighborhood!
"The expert answered the usual call, and explained that it was a 'False
alarm.' Said it was easily fixed. So he overhauled the nursery window,
charged a remunerative figure for it, and departed.
"What we suffered from false alarms for the next three years no
stylographic pen can describe. During the next three months I always flew
with my gun to the room indicated, and the coachman always sallied forth
with his battery to support me. But there was never anything to shoot at—windows
all tight and secure. We always sent down for the expert next day, and he
fixed those particular windows so they would keep quiet a week or so, and
always remembered to send us a bill about like this:
Two hours' labor ................ 1.50
Recharging battery .............. .98
Three hours' labor .............. 2.25
Lard ............................ .66
Pond's Extract .................. 1.25
Springs at 50.................... 2.00
Railroad fares................... 7.25
"At length a perfectly natural thing came about—after we had
answered three or four hundred false alarms—to wit, we stopped
answering them. Yes, I simply rose up calmly, when slammed across the
house by the alarm, calmly inspected the annunciator, took note of the
room indicated; and then calmly disconnected that room from the alarm, and
went back to bed as if nothing had happened. Moreover, I left that room
off permanently, and did not send for the expert. Well, it goes without
saying that in the course of time all the rooms were taken off, and the
entire machine was out of service.
"It was at this unprotected time that the heaviest calamity of all
happened. The burglars walked in one night and carried off the burglar
alarm! yes, sir, every hide and hair of it: ripped it out, tooth and nail;
springs, bells, gongs, battery, and all; they took a hundred and fifty
miles of copper wire; they just cleaned her out, bag and baggage, and
never left us a vestige of her to swear at—swear by, I mean.
"We had a time of it to get her back; but we accomplished it finally, for
money. The alarm firm said that what we needed now was to have her put in
right—with their new patent springs in the windows to make false
alarms impossible, and their new patent clock attached to take off and put
on the alarm morning and night without human assistance. That seemed a
good scheme. They promised to have the whole thing finished in ten days.
They began work, and we left for the summer. They worked a couple of days;
then they left for the summer. After which the burglars moved in, and
began their summer vacation. When we returned in the fall, the house was
as empty as a beer closet in premises where painters have been at work. We
refurnished, and then sent down to hurry up the expert. He came up and
finished the job, and said: 'Now this clock is set to put on the alarm
every night at 10, and take it off every morning at 5:45. All you've got
to do is to wind her up every week, and then leave her alone—she
will take care of the alarm herself.'
"After that we had a most tranquil season during three months. The bill
was prodigious, of course, and I had said I would not pay it until the new
machinery had proved itself to be flawless. The time stipulated was three
months. So I paid the bill, and the very next day the alarm went to
buzzing like ten thousand bee swarms at ten o'clock in the morning. I
turned the hands around twelve hours, according to instructions, and this
took off the alarm; but there was another hitch at night, and I had to set
her ahead twelve hours once more to get her to put the alarm on again.
That sort of nonsense went on a week or two, then the expert came up and
put in a new clock. He came up every three months during the next three
years, and put in a new clock. But it was always a failure. His clocks all
had the same perverse defect: they would put the alarm on in the daytime,
and they would not put it on at night; and if you forced it on yourself,
they would take it off again the minute your back was turned.
"Now there is the history of that burglar alarm—everything just as
it happened; nothing extenuated, and naught set down in malice. Yes, sir,—and
when I had slept nine years with burglars, and maintained an expensive
burglar alarm the whole time, for their protection, not mine, and at my
sole cost—for not a d—-d cent could I ever get THEM to
contribute—I just said to Mrs. McWilliams that I had had enough of
that kind of pie; so with her full consent I took the whole thing out and
traded it off for a dog, and shot the dog. I don't know what you think
about it, Mr. Twain; but I think those things are made solely in the
interest of the burglars. Yes, sir, a burglar alarm combines in its person
all that is objectionable about a fire, a riot, and a harem, and at the
same time had none of the compensating advantages, of one sort or another,
that customarily belong with that combination. Good-by: I get off here."