Sketches New and Old, Part 5. eBook: Page1

Mark Twain (2004)




  Produced by David Widger

  SKETCHES NEW AND OLD

  by Mark Twain

  Part 5.

  THE SIAMESE TWINS--[Written about 1868.]

  I do not wish to write of the personal habits of these strange creaturessolely, but also of certain curious details of various kinds concerningthem, which, belonging only to their private life, have never crept intoprint. Knowing the Twins intimately, I feel that I am peculiarly wellqualified for the task I have taken upon myself.

  The Siamese Twins are naturally tender and affectionate indisposition,and have clung to each other with singular fidelity throughout a long andeventful life. Even as children they were inseparable companions; and itwas noticed that they always seemed to prefer each other's society tothat of any other persons. They nearly always played together; and, soaccustomed was their mother to this peculiarity, that, whenever both ofthem chanced to be lost, she usually only hunted for one of them--satisfied that when she found that one she would find his brothersomewhere in the immediate neighborhood. And yet these creatures wereignorant and unlettered-barbarians themselves and the offspring ofbarbarians, who knew not the light of philosophy and science. What awithering rebuke is this to our boasted civilization, with itsquarrelings, its wranglings, and its separations of brothers!

  As men, the Twins have not always lived in perfect accord; but stillthere has always been a bond between them which made them unwilling to goaway from each other and dwell apart. They have even occupied the samehouse, as a general thing, and it is believed that they have never failedto even sleep together on any night since they were born. How surely dothe habits of a lifetime become second nature to us! The Twins always goto bed at the same time; but Chang usually gets up about an hour beforehis brother. By an understanding between themselves, Chang does all theindoor work and Eng runs all the errands. This is because Eng likes togo out; Chang's habits are sedentary. However, Chang always goes along.Eng is a Baptist, but Chang is a Roman Catholic; still, to please hisbrother, Chang consented to be baptized at the same time that Eng was, oncondition that it should not "count." During the war they were strongpartisans, and both fought gallantly all through the great struggle--Engon the Union side and Chang on the Confederate. They took each otherprisoners at Seven Oaks, but the proofs of capture were so evenlybalanced in favor of each, that a general army court had to be assembledto determine which one was properly the captor and which the captive.The jury was unable to agree for a long time; but the vexed question wasfinally decided by agreeing to consider them both prisoners, and thenexchanging them. At one time Chang was convicted of disobedience oforders, and sentenced to ten days in the guard-house, but Eng, in spiteof all arguments, felt obliged to share his imprisonment, notwithstandinghe himself was entirely innocent; and so, to save the blameless brotherfrom suffering, they had to discharge both from custody--the just rewardof faithfulness.

  Upon one occasion the brothers fell out about something, and Changknocked Eng down, and then tripped and fell on him, whereupon bothclinched and began to beat and gouge each other without mercy. Thebystanders interfered, and tried to separate them, but they could not doit, and so allowed them to fight it out. In the end both were disabled,and were carried to the hospital on one and the same shutter.

  Their ancient habit of going always together had its drawbacks when theyreached man's estate, and entered upon the luxury of courting. Both fellin love with the same girl. Each tried to steal clandestine interviewswith her, but at the critical moment the other would always turn up.By and by Eng saw, with distraction, that Chang had won the girl'saffections; and, from that day forth, he had to bear with the agony ofbeing a witness to all their dainty billing and cooing. But with amagnanimity that did him infinite credit, he succumbed to his fate, andgave countenance and encouragement to a state of things that bade fair tosunder his generous heart-strings. He sat from seven every evening untiltwo in the morning, listening to the fond foolishness of the two lovers,and to the concussion of hundreds of squandered kisses--for the privilegeof sharing only one of which he would have given his right hand. But hesat patiently, and waited, and gaped, and yawned, and stretched, andlonged for two o'clock to come. And he took long walks with the loverson moonlight evenings--sometimes traversing ten miles, notwithstanding hewas usually suffering from rheumatism. He is an inveterate smoker; buthe could not smoke on these occasions, because the young lady waspainfully sensitive to the smell of tobacco. Eng cordially wanted themmarried, and done with it; but although Chang often asked the momentousquestion, the young lady could not gather sufficient courage to answer itwhile Eng was by. However, on one occasion, after having walked somesixteen miles, and sat up till nearly daylight, Eng dropped asleep, fromsheer exhaustion, and then the question was asked and answered. Thelovers were married. All acquainted with the circumstance applauded thenoble brother-in-law. His unwavering faithfulness was the theme of everytongue. He had stayed by them all through their long and arduouscourtship; and when at last they were married, he lifted his hands abovetheir heads, and said with impressive unction, "Bless ye, my children, Iwill never desert ye!" and he kept his word. Fidelity like this is alltoo rare in this cold world.

  By and by Eng fell in love with his sister-in-law's sister, and marriedher, and since that day they have all lived together, night and day, inan exceeding sociability which is touching and beautiful to behold, andis a scathing rebuke to our boasted civilization.

  The sympathy existing between these two brothers is so close and sorefined that the feelings, the impulses, the emotions of the one areinstantly experienced by the other. When one is sick, the other is sick;when one feels pain, the other feels it; when one is angered, the other'stemper takes fire. We have already seen with what happy facility theyboth fell in love with the same girl. Now Chang is bitterly opposed toall forms of intemperance, on principle; but Eng is the reverse--for,while these men's feelings and emotions are so closely wedded, theirreasoning faculties are unfettered; their thoughts are free. Changbelongs to the Good Templars, and is a hard--working, enthusiasticsupporter of all temperance reforms. But, to his bitter distress, everynow and then Eng gets drunk, and, of course, that makes Chang drunk too.This unfortunate thing has been a great sorrow to Chang, for it almostdestroys his usefulness in his favorite field of effort. As sure as heis to head a great temperance procession Eng ranges up alongside of him,prompt to the minute, and drunk as a lord; but yet no more dismally andhopelessly drunk than his brother, who has not tasted a drop. And so thetwo begin to hoot and yell, and throw mud and bricks at the GoodTemplars; and, of course, they break up the procession. It would bemanifestly wrong to punish Chang for what Eng does, and, therefore, theGood Templars accept the untoward situation, and suffer in silence andsorrow. They have officially and deliberately examined into the matter,and find Chang blameless. They have taken the two brothers and filledChang full of warm water and sugar and Eng full of whisky, and intwenty-five minutes it was not possible to tell which was the drunkest.Both were as drunk as loons--and on hot whisky punches, by the smell oftheir breath. Yet all the while Chang's moral principles were unsullied,his conscience clear; and so all just men were forced to confess that hewas not morally, but only physically, drunk. By every right and by everymoral evidence the man was strictly sober; and, therefore, it caused hisfriends all the more anguish to see him shake hands with the pump and tryto wind his watch with his night-key.

  There is a moral in these solemn warnings--or, at least, a warning inthese solemn morals; one or the other. No matter, it is somehow. Let usheed it; let us profit by it.

  I could say more of an instructive nature about these interesting beings,but let what I have wri
tten suffice.

  Having forgotten to mention it sooner, I will remark in conclusion thatthe ages of the Siamese Twins are respectively fifty-one and fifty-threeyears.

  SPEECH AT THE SCOTTISH BANQUET IN LONDON--[Written about 1872.]

  On the anniversary festival of the Scottish Corporation of London onMonday evening, in response to the toast of "The Ladies," MARK TWAINreplied. The following is his speech as reported in the London Observer:

  I am proud, indeed, of the distinction of being chosen to respond to thisespecial toast, to 'The Ladies,' or to women if you please, for that isthe preferable term, perhaps; it is certainly the older, and thereforethe more entitled to reverence [Laughter.] I have noticed that theBible, with that plain, blunt honesty which is such a conspicuouscharacteristic of the Scriptures, is always particular to never refer toeven the illustrious mother of all mankind herself as a 'lady,' butspeaks of her as a woman, [Laughter.] It is odd, but you will find it isso. I am peculiarly proud of this honor, because I think that the toastto women is one which, by right and by every rule of gallantry, shouldtake precedence of all others--of the army, of the navy, of even royaltyitself perhaps, though the latter is not necessary in this day and inthis land, for the reason that, tacitly, you do drink a broad generalhealth to all good women when you drink the health of the Queen ofEngland and the Princess of Wales. [Loud cheers.] I have in mind a poemjust now which is familiar to you all, familiar to everybody. And whatan inspiration that was (and how instantly the present toast recalls theverses to all our minds) when the most noble, the most gracious, thepurest, and sweetest of all poets says:

  "Woman! O woman!--er-- Wom--"

  [Laughter.] However, you remember the lines; and you remember howfeelingly, how daintily, how almost imperceptibly the verses raise upbefore you, feature by feature, the ideal of a true and perfect woman;and how, as you contemplate the finished marvel, your homage grows intoworship of the intellect that could create so fair a thing out of merebreath, mere words. And you call to mind now, as I speak, how the poet,with stern fidelity to the history of all humanity, delivers thisbeautiful child of his heart and his brain over to the trials and sorrowsthat must come to all, sooner or later, that abide in the earth, and howthe pathetic story culminates in that apostrophe--so wild, so regretful,so full of mournful retrospection. The lines run thus:

  "Alas!--alas!--a--alas! ----Alas!--------alas!"

  --and so on. [Laughter.] I do not remember the rest; but, takentogether, it seems to me that poem is the noblest tribute to woman thathuman genius has ever brought forth--[laughter]--and I feel that if Iwere to talk hours I could not do my great theme completer or moregraceful justice than I have now done in simply quoting that poet'smatchless words. [Renewed laughter.] The phases of the womanly natureare infinite in their variety. Take any type of woman, and you shallfind in it something to respect, something to admire, something to love.And you shall find the whole joining you heart and hand. Who was morepatriotic than Joan of Arc? Who was braver? Who has given us a granderinstance of self-sacrificing devotion? Ah! you remember, you rememberwell, what a throb of pain, what a great tidal wave of grief swept overus all when Joan of Arc fell at Waterloo. [Much laughter.] Who does notsorrow for the loss of Sappho, the sweet singer of Israel? [Laughter.]Who among us does not miss the gentle ministrations, the softeninginfluences, the humble piety of Lucretia Borgia? [Laughter.] Who canjoin in the heartless libel that says woman is extravagant in dress whenhe can look back and call to mind our simple and lowly mother Eve arrayedin her modification of the Highland costume. [Roars of laughter.]Sir, women have been soldiers, women have been painters, women have beenpoets. As long as language lives the name of Cleopatra will live.

  And, not because she conquered George III. [laughter]--but because shewrote those divine lines:

  "Let dogs delight to bark and bite, For God hath made them so."

  [More laughter.] The story of the world is adorned with the names ofillustrious ones of our own sex--some of them sons of St. Andrew, too--Scott, Bruce, Burns, the warrior Wallace, Ben Nevis--[laughter]--thegifted Ben Lomond, and the great new Scotchman, Ben Disraeli. [Greatlaughter.] Out of the great plains of history tower whole mountainranges of sublime women--the Queen of Sheba, Josephine, Semiramis, SaireyGamp; the list is endless--[laughter]--but I will not call the mightyroll, the names rise up in your own memories at the mere suggestion,luminous with the glory of deeds that cannot die, hallowed by the lovingworship of the good and the true of all epochs and all climes. [Cheers.]Suffice it for our pride and our honor that we in our day have added toit such names as those of Grace Darling and Florence Nightingale.[Cheers.] Woman is all that she should be-gentle, patient, longsuffering, trustful, unselfish, full of generous impulses. It is herblessed mission to comfort the sorrowing, plead for the erring, encouragethe faint of purpose, succor the distressed, uplift the fallen, befriendthe friendless in a word, afford the healing of her sympathies and a homein her heart for all the bruised and persecuted children of misfortunethat knock at its hospitable door. [Cheers.] And when I say, God blessher, there is none among us who has known the ennobling affection of awife, or the steadfast devotion of a mother, but in his heart will say,Amen! [Loud and prolonged cheering.]

  --[Mr. Benjamin Disraeli, at that time Prime Minister of England, hadjust been elected Lord Rector of Glasgow University, and had made aspeech which gave rise to a world of discussion.]

  A GHOST STORY

  I took a large room, far up Broadway, in a huge old building whose upperstories had been wholly unoccupied for years until I came. The place hadlong been given up to dust and cobwebs, to solitude and silence.I seemed groping among the tombs and invading the privacy of the dead,that first night I climbed up to my quarters. For the first time in mylife a superstitious dread came over me; and as I turned a dark angle ofthe stairway and an invisible cobweb swung its slazy woof in my face andclung there, I shuddered as one who had encountered a phantom.

  I was glad enough when I reached my room and locked out the mold and thedarkness. A cheery fire was burning in the grate, and I sat down beforeit with a comforting sense of relief. For two hours I sat there,thinking of bygone times; recalling old scenes, and summoninghalf-forgotten faces out of the mists of the past; listening, in fancy,to voices that long ago grew silent for all time, and to once familiarsongs that nobody sings now. And as my reverie softened down to a sadderand sadder pathos, the shrieking of the winds outside softened to a wail,the angry beating of the rain against the panes diminished to a tranquilpatter, and one by one the noises in the street subsided, until thehurrying footsteps of the last belated straggler died away in thedistance and left no sound behind.

  The fire had burned low. A sense of loneliness crept over me. I aroseand undressed, moving on tiptoe about the room, doing stealthily what Ihad to do, as if I were environed by sleeping enemies whose slumbers itwould be fatal to break. I covered up in bed, and lay listening to therain and wind and the faint creaking of distant shutters, till theylulled me to sleep.

  I slept profoundly, but how long I do not know. All at once I foundmyself awake, and filled with a shuddering expectancy. All was still.All but my own heart--I could hear it beat. Presently the bedclothesbegan to slip away slowly toward the foot of the bed, as if some one werepulling them! I could not stir; I could not speak. Still the blanketsslipped deliberately away, till my breast was uncovered. Then with agreat effort I seized them and drew them over my head. I waited,listened, waited. Once more that steady pull began, and once more I laytorpid a century of dragging seconds till my breast was naked again. Atlast I roused my energies and snatched the covers back to their place andheld them with a strong grip. I waited. By and by I felt a faint tug,and took a fresh grip. The tug strengthened to a steady strain--it grewstronger and stronger. My hold parted, and for the third time theblankets slid
away. I groaned. An answering groan came from the foot ofthe bed! Beaded drops of sweat stood upon my forehead. I was more deadthan alive. Presently I heard a heavy footstep in my room--the step ofan elephant, it seemed to me--it was not like anything human. But it wasmoving from me--there was relief in that. I heard it approach the door--pass out without moving bolt or lock--and wander away among the dismalcorridors, straining the floors and joists till they creaked again as itpassed--and then silence reigned once more.

  When my excitement had calmed, I said to myself, "This is a dream--simplya hideous dream." And so I lay thinking it over until I convinced myselfthat it was a dream, and then a comforting laugh relaxed my lips and Iwas happy again. I got up and struck a light; and when I found that thelocks and bolts were just as I had left them, another soothing laughwelled in my heart and rippled from my lips. I took my pipe and lit it,and was just sitting down before the fire, when-down went the pipe out ofmy nerveless fingers, the blood forsook my cheeks, and my placidbreathing was cut short with a gasp! In the ashes on the hearth, side byside with my own bare footprint, was another, so vast that in comparisonmine was but an infant's! Then I had had a visitor, and the elephanttread was explained.

  I put out the light and returned to bed, palsied with fear. I lay a longtime, peering into the darkness, and listening.--Then I heard a gratingnoise overhead, like the dragging of a heavy body across the floor; thenthe throwing down of the body, and the shaking of my windows in responseto the concussion. In distant parts of the building I heard the muffledslamming of doors. I heard, at intervals, stealthy footsteps creeping inand out among the corridors, and up and down the stairs. Sometimes thesenoises approached my door, hesitated, and went away again. I heard theclanking of chains faintly, in remote passages, and listened while theclanking grew nearer--while it wearily climbed the stairways, markingeach move by the loose surplus of chain that fell with an accented rattleupon each succeeding step as the goblin that bore it advanced. I heardmuttered sentences; half-uttered screams that seemed smothered violently;and the swish of invisible garments, the rush of invisible wings. Then Ibecame conscious that my chamber was invaded--that I was not alone.I heard sighs and breathings about my bed, and mysterious whisperings.Three little spheres of soft phosphorescent light appeared on the ceilingdirectly over my head, clung and glowed there a moment, and then dropped--two of them upon my face and one upon the pillow. They, spattered,liquidly, and felt warm. Intuition told me they had--turned to gouts ofblood as they fell--I needed no light to satisfy myself of that. Then Isaw pallid faces, dimly luminous, and white uplifted hands, floatingbodiless in the air--floating a moment and then disappearing.The whispering ceased, and the voices and the sounds, anal a solemnstillness followed. I waited and listened. I felt that I must havelight or die. I was weak with fear. I slowly raised myself toward asitting posture, and my face came in contact with a clammy hand!All strength went from me apparently, and I fell back like a strickeninvalid. Then I heard the rustle of a garment it seemed to pass to thedoor and go out.