The Mysterious Stranger, and Other Stories eBook: Page1

Mark Twain (2006)




  Produced by David Widger, Be Wolf and Donald F. Behan

  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 this eBook.

  Contents:

  The Mysterious Stranger A Fable Hunting The Deceitful Turkey The McWilliamses And The Burglar Alarm

  THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER

  Chapter 1

  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 soforever. Some even set it away back centuries upon centuries and saidthat by the mental and spiritual clock it was still the Age of Beliefin Austria. But they meant it as a compliment, not a slur, and it was sotaken, and we were all proud of it. I remember it well, although I wasonly a boy; and I remember, too, the pleasure it gave me.

  Yes, Austria was far from the world, and asleep, and our village was inthe middle of that sleep, being in the middle of Austria. It drowsed inpeace in the deep privacy of a hilly and woodsy solitude where news fromthe world hardly ever came to disturb its dreams, and was infinitelycontent. At its front flowed the tranquil river, its surface paintedwith 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 oftowers and bastions mailed in vines; beyond the river, a league to theleft, was a tumbled expanse of forest-clothed hills cloven by windinggorges where the sun never penetrated; and to the right a precipiceoverlooked the river, and between it and the hills just spoken of lay afar-reaching plain dotted with little homesteads nested among orchardsand shade trees.

  The whole region for leagues around was the hereditary property of aprince, whose servants kept the castle always in perfect condition foroccupancy, but neither he nor his family came there oftener than oncein five years. When they came it was as if the lord of the world hadarrived, and had brought all the glories of its kingdoms along; and whenthey went they left a calm behind which was like the deep sleep whichfollows an orgy.

  Eseldorf was a paradise for us boys. We were not overmuch pestered withschooling. Mainly we were trained to be good Christians; to reverethe Virgin, the Church, and the saints above everything. Beyond thesematters we were not required to know much; and, in fact, not allowedto. Knowledge was not good for the common people, and could make themdiscontented with the lot which God had appointed for them, and Godwould not endure discontentment with His plans. We had two priests. Oneof them, Father Adolf, was a very zealous and strenuous priest, muchconsidered.

  There may have been better priests, in some ways, than Father Adolf, butthere was never one in our commune who was held in more solemn and awfulrespect. This was because he had absolutely no fear of the Devil. He wasthe 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 thatthere must be something supernatural about him, else he could not be sobold and so confident. All men speak in bitter disapproval of the Devil,but they do it reverently, not flippantly; but Father Adolf's way wasvery different; he called him by every name he could lay his tongue to,and it made everyone shudder that heard him; and often he wouldeven speak of him scornfully and scoffingly; then the people crossedthemselves and went quickly out of his presence, fearing that somethingfearful might happen.

  Father Adolf had actually met Satan face to face more than once, anddefied him. This was known to be so. Father Adolf said it himself. Henever made any secret of it, but spoke it right out. And that he wasspeaking true there was proof in at least one instance, for on thatoccasion he quarreled with the enemy, and intrepidly threw his bottle athim; and there, upon the wall of his study, was the ruddy splotch whereit struck and broke.

  But it was Father Peter, the other priest, that we all loved best andwere sorriest for. Some people charged him with talking around inconversation that God was all goodness and would find a way to save allhis poor human children. It was a horrible thing to say, but there wasnever any absolute proof that Father Peter said it; and it was out ofcharacter for him to say it, too, for he was always good and gentle andtruthful. He wasn't charged with saying it in the pulpit, where all thecongregation could hear and testify, but only outside, in talk; and itis easy for enemies to manufacture that. Father Peter had an enemy and avery powerful one, the astrologer who lived in a tumbled old tower upthe valley, and put in his nights studying the stars. Every one knew hecould foretell wars and famines, though that was not so hard, for therewas always a war, and generally a famine somewhere. But he could alsoread any man's life through the stars in a big book he had, and findlost property, and every one in the village except Father Peter stood inawe of him. Even Father Adolf, who had defied the Devil, had a wholesomerespect for the astrologer when he came through our village wearing histall, pointed hat and his long, flowing robe with stars on it, carryinghis big book, and a staff which was known to have magic power. Thebishop himself sometimes listened to the astrologer, it was said, for,besides studying the stars and prophesying, the astrologer made a greatshow of piety, which would impress the bishop, of course.

  But Father Peter took no stock in the astrologer. He denounced himopenly 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 ruinhim. It was the astrologer, as we all believed, who originated the storyabout Father Peter's shocking remark and carried it to the bishop. Itwas said that Father Peter had made the remark to his niece, Marget,though Marget denied it and implored the bishop to believe her and spareher old uncle from poverty and disgrace. But the bishop wouldn't listen.He suspended Father Peter indefinitely, though he wouldn't go so far asto excommunicate him on the evidence of only one witness; and now FatherPeter had been out a couple of years, and our other priest, FatherAdolf, had his flock.

  Those had been hard years for the old priest and Marget. They had beenfavorites, but of course that changed when they came under the shadowof the bishop's frown. Many of their friends fell away entirely, and therest became cool and distant. Marget was a lovely girl of eighteen whenthe trouble came, and she had the best head in the village, and the mostin it. She taught the harp, and earned all her clothes and pocket moneyby her own industry. But her scholars fell off one by one now; she wasforgotten when there were dances and parties among the youth of thevillage; the young fellows stopped coming to the house, all exceptWilhelm Meidling--and he could have been spared; she and her uncle weresad and forlorn in their neglect and disgrace, and the sunshine was goneout of their lives. Matters went worse and worse, all through the twoyears. 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 themoney he was willing to put on the house, and gave notice that to-morrowhe would foreclose.