Sketches New and Old, Part 4. eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (2004)

  But in a remote apartment of the palace a scene of a different naturewas, transpiring. By a window stood the Duke's only child, the LadyConstance. Her eyes were red and swollen, and full of tears. She wasalone. Presently she fell to weeping anew, and said aloud:

  "The villain Detzin is gone--has fled the dukedom! I could not believeit at first, but alas! it is too true. And I loved him so. I dared tolove him though I knew the Duke my father would never let me wed him.I loved him--but now I hate him! With all, my soul I hate him! Oh, whatis to become of me! I am lost, lost, lost! I shall go mad!"



  Few months drifted by. All men published the praises of the youngConrad's government and extolled the wisdom of his judgments, themercifulness of his sentences, and the modesty with which he bore himselfin his great office. The old Duke soon gave everything into his hands,and sat apart and listened with proud satisfaction while his heirdelivered the decrees of the crown from the seat of the premier.It seemed plain that one so loved and praised and honored of all menas Conrad was, could not be otherwise than happy. But strange enough,he was not. For he saw with dismay that the Princess Constance had begunto love him! The love of, the rest of the world was happy fortune forhim, but this was freighted with danger! And he saw, moreover, that thedelighted Duke had discovered his daughter's passion likewise, and wasalready dreaming of a marriage. Every day somewhat of the deep sadnessthat had been in the princess' face faded away; every day hope andanimation beamed brighter from her eye; and by and by even vagrant smilesvisited the face that had been so troubled.

  Conrad was appalled. He bitterly cursed himself for having yielded tothe instinct that had made him seek the companionship of one of his ownsex when he was new and a stranger in the palace--when he was sorrowfuland yearned for a sympathy such as only women can give or feel. He nowbegan to avoid, his cousin. But this only made matters worse, for,naturally enough, the more he avoided her, the more she cast herself inhis way. He marveled at this at first; and next it startled him. Thegirl haunted him; she hunted him; she happened upon him at all times andin all places, in the night as well as in the day. She seemed singularlyanxious. There was surely a mystery somewhere.

  This could not go on forever. All the world was talking about it. TheDuke was beginning to look perplexed. Poor Conrad was becoming a veryghost through dread and dire distress. One day as he was emerging from aprivate ante-room attached to the picture gallery, Constance confrontedhim, and seizing both his hands, in hers, exclaimed:

  "Oh, why, do you avoid me? What have I done--what have I said, to loseyour kind opinion of me--for, surely I had it once? Conrad, do notdespise me, but pity a tortured heart? I cannot,--cannot hold the wordsunspoken longer, lest they kill me--I LOVE you, CONRAD! There, despiseme if you must, but they would be uttered!"

  Conrad was speechless. Constance hesitated a moment, and then,misinterpreting his silence, a wild gladness flamed in her eyes, and sheflung her arms about his neck and said:

  "You relent! you relent! You can love me--you will love me! Oh, say youwill, my own, my worshipped Conrad!'"

  "Conrad groaned aloud. A sickly pallor overspread his countenance, andhe trembled like an aspen. Presently, in desperation, he thrust the poorgirl from him, and cried:

  "You know not what you ask! It is forever and ever impossible!" And thenhe fled like a criminal and left the princess stupefied with amazement.A minute afterward she was crying and sobbing there, and Conrad wascrying and sobbing in his chamber. Both were in despair. Both save ruinstaring them in the face.

  By and by Constance rose slowly to her feet and moved away, saying:

  "To think that he was despising my love at the very moment that I thoughtit was melting his cruel heart! I hate him! He spurned me--did thisman--he spurned me from him like a dog!"



  Time passed on. A settled sadness rested once more upon the countenanceof the good Duke's daughter. She and Conrad were seen together no morenow. The Duke grieved at this. But as the weeks wore away, Conrad'scolor came back to his cheeks and his old-time vivacity to his eye, andhe administered the government with a clear and steadily ripening wisdom.

  Presently a strange whisper began to be heard about the palace. It grewlouder; it spread farther. The gossips of the city got hold-of it. Itswept the dukedom. And this is what the whisper said:

  "The Lady Constance hath given birth to a child!"

  When the lord of Klugenstein heard it, he swung his plumed helmet thricearound his head and shouted:

  "Long live. Duke Conrad!--for lo, his crown is sure, from this dayforward! Detzin has done his errand well, and the good scoundrel shallbe rewarded!"

  And he spread, the tidings far and wide, and for eight-and-forty hours nosoul in all the barony but did dance and sing, carouse and illuminate, tocelebrate the great event, and all at proud and happy old Klugenstein'sexpense.



  The trial was at hand. All the great lords and barons of Brandenburghwere assembled in the Hall of Justice in the ducal palace. No space wasleft unoccupied where there was room for a spectator to stand or sit.Conrad, clad in purple and ermine, sat in the premier's chair, and oneither side sat the great judges of the realm. The old Duke had sternlycommanded that the trial of his daughter should proceed, without favor,and then had taken to his bed broken-hearted. His days were numbered.Poor Conrad had begged, as for his very life, that he might be spared themisery of sitting in judgment upon his cousin's crime, but it did notavail.

  The saddest heart in all that great assemblage was in Conrad's breast.

  The gladdest was in his father's. For, unknown to his daughter "Conrad,"the old Baron Klugenstein was come, and was among the crowd of nobles,triumphant in the swelling fortunes of his house.

  After the heralds had made due proclamation and the other preliminarieshad followed, the venerable Lord Chief justice said:

  "Prisoner, stand forth!"

  The unhappy princess rose and stood unveiled before the vast multitude.The Lord Chief Justice continued:

  "Most noble lady, before the great judges of this realm it hath beencharged and proven that out of holy wedlock your Grace hath given birthunto a child; and by our ancient law the penalty is death, excepting inone sole contingency, whereof his Grace the acting Duke, our good LordConrad, will advertise you in his solemn sentence now; wherefore, giveheed."

  Conrad stretched forth the reluctant sceptre, and in the self-same momentthe womanly heart beneath his robe yearned pityingly toward the doomedprisoner, and the tears came into his eyes. He opened his lips to speak,but the Lord Chief Justice said quickly:

  "Not there, your Grace, not there! It is not lawful to pronouncejudgment upon any of the ducal line SAVE FROM THE DUCAL THRONE!"

  A shudder went to the heart of poor Conrad, and a tremor shook the ironframe of his old father likewise. CONRAD HAD NOT BEEN CROWNED--dared heprofane the throne? He hesitated and turned pale with fear. But it mustbe done. Wondering eyes were already upon him. They would be suspiciouseyes if he hesitated longer. He ascended the throne. Presently hestretched forth the sceptre again, and said:

  "Prisoner, in the name of our sovereign lord, Ulrich, Duke ofBrandenburgh, I proceed to the solemn duty that hath devolved upon me.Give heed to my words. By the ancient law of the land, except youproduce the partner of your guilt and deliver him up to the executioner,you must surely die. Embrace this opportunity--save yourself while yetyou may. Name the father of your child!"

  A solemn hush fell upon the great court--a silence so profound that mencould hear their own hearts beat. Then the princess slowly turned, witheyes gleaming with hate, and pointing her finger straight at Conrad,said:

  "Thou art the man!"

  An appalling conviction of his helpless, hopeless peril struck a chill toConrad's heart like the chill of deat
h itself. What power on earth couldsave him! To disprove the charge, he must reveal that he was a woman;and for an uncrowned woman to sit in the ducal chair was death! At oneand the same moment, he and his grim old father swooned and fell to, theground.

  [The remainder of this thrilling and eventful story will NOT be found inthis or any other publication, either now or at any future time.]

  The truth is, I have got my hero (or heroine) into such a particularlyclose place, that I do not see how I am ever going to get him (or her)out of it again--and therefore I will wash my hands of the wholebusiness, and leave that person to get out the best way that offers--orelse stay there. I thought it was going to be easy enough to straightenout that little difficulty, but it looks different now.



  Whereas, The Constitution guarantees equal rights to all, backed by theDeclaration of Independence; and

  Whereas, Under our laws, the right of property in real estate isperpetual; and

  Whereas, Under our laws, the right of property in the literary result ofa citizen's intellectual labor is restricted to forty-two years; and

  Whereas, Forty-two years seems an exceedingly just and righteous term,and a sufficiently long one for the retention of property;

  Therefore, Your petitioner, having the good of his country solely atheart, humbly prays that "equal rights" and fair and equal treatment maybe meted out to all citizens, by the restriction of rights in allproperty, real estate included, to the beneficent term of forty-twoyears. Then shall all men bless your honorable body and be happy. Andfor this will your petitioner ever pray. MARK TWAIN.


  The charming absurdity of restricting property-rights in books toforty-two years sticks prominently out in the fact that hardly any man'sbooks ever live forty-two years, or even the half of it; and so, for thesake of getting a shabby advantage of the heirs of about one Scott orBurns or Milton in a hundred years, the lawmakers of the "Great" Republicare content to leave that poor little pilfering edict upon thestatute-books. It is like an emperor lying in wait to rob a Phenix'snest, and waiting the necessary century to get the chance.



  MR. CHAIRMAN AND LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I thank you for the complimentwhich has just been tendered me, and to show my appreciation of it I willnot afflict you with many words. It is pleasant to celebrate in thispeaceful way, upon this old mother soil, the anniversary of an experimentwhich was born of war with this same land so long ago, and wrought out toa successful issue by the devotion of our ancestors. It has taken nearlya hundred years to bring the English and Americans into kindly andmutually appreciative relations, but I believe it has been accomplishedat last. It was a great step when the two last misunderstandings weresettled by arbitration instead of cannon. It is another great step whenEngland adopts our sewing-machines without claiming the invention--asusual. It was another when they imported one of our sleeping-cars theother day. And it warmed my heart more than I can tell, yesterday, whenI witnessed the spectacle of an Englishman ordering an American sherrycobbler of his own free will and accord--and not only that but with agreat brain and a level head reminding the barkeeper not to forget thestrawberries. With a common origin, a common language, a commonliterature, a common religion and--common drinks, what is longer needfulto the cementing of the two nations together in a permanent bond ofbrotherhood?

  This is an age of progress, and ours is a progressive land. A great andglorious land, too--a land which has developed a Washington, a Franklin,a William M. Tweed, a Longfellow, a Motley, a Jay Gould, a Samuel C.Pomeroy, a recent Congress which has never had its equal (in somerespects), and a United States Army which conquered sixty Indians ineight months by tiring them out--which is much better than uncivilizedslaughter, God knows. We have a criminal jury system which is superiorto any in the world; and its efficiency is only marred by the difficultyof finding twelve men every day who don't know anything and can't read.And I may observe that we have an insanity plea that would have savedCain. I think I can say,--and say with pride, that we have somelegislatures that bring higher prices than any in the world.

  I refer with effusion to our railway system, which consents to let uslive, though it might do the opposite, being our owners. It onlydestroyed three thousand and seventy lives last year by collisions, andtwenty-seven thousand two hundred and sixty by running over heedless andunnecessary people at crossings. The companies seriously regretted thekilling of these thirty thousand people, and went so far as to pay forsome of them--voluntarily, of course, for the meanest of us would notclaim that we possess a court treacherous enough to enforce a law againsta railway company. But, thank Heaven, the railway companies aregenerally disposed to do the right and kindly thing without compulsion.I know of an instance which greatly touched me at the time. After anaccident the company sent home the remains of a dear distant old relativeof mine in a basket, with the remark, "Please state what figure you holdhim at--and return the basket." Now there couldn't be anythingfriendlier than that.

  But I must not stand here and brag all night. However, you won't mind abody bragging a little about his country on the fourth of July. It is afair and legitimate time to fly the eagle. I will say only one more wordof brag--and a hopeful one. It is this. We have a form of governmentwhich gives each man a fair chance and no favor. With us no individualis born with a right to look down upon his neighbor and hold him incontempt. Let such of us as are not dukes find our consolation in that.And we may find hope for the future in the fact that as unhappy as is thecondition of our political morality to-day, England has risen up out ofa far fouler since the days when Charles I. ennobled courtesans and allpolitical place was a matter of bargain and sale. There is hope for usyet.

  [At least the above is the speech which I was going to make, but our minister, General Schenck, presided, and after the blessing, got up and made a great long inconceivably dull harangue, and wound up by saying that inasmuch as speech-making did not seem to exhilarate the guests much, all further oratory would be dispensed with during the evening, and we could just sit and talk privately to our elbow-neighbors and have a good sociable time. It is known that in consequence of that remark forty-four perfected speeches died in the womb. The depression, the gloom, the solemnity that reigned over the banquet from that time forth will be a lasting memory with many that were there. By that one thoughtless remark General Schenck lost forty-four of the best friends he had in England. More than one said that night, "And this is the sort of person that is sent to represent us in a great sister empire!"]


  I had heard so much about the celebrated fortune-teller Madame-----, thatI went to see her yesterday. She has a dark complexion naturally, andthis effect is heightened by artificial aids which cost her nothing.She wears curls--very black ones, and I had an impression that she gavetheir native attractiveness a lift with rancid butter. She wears areddish check handkerchief, cast loosely around her neck, and it wasplain that her other one is slow getting back from the wash. I presumeshe takes snuff. At any rate, something resembling it had lodged amongthe hairs sprouting from her upper lip. I know she likes garlic--I knewthat as soon as she sighed. She looked at me searchingly for nearly aminute, with her black eyes, and then said:

  "It is enough. Come!"

  She started down a very dark and dismal corridor--I stepping close afterher. Presently she stopped, and said that, as the way was so crooked anddark, perhaps she had better get a light. But it seemed ungallant toallow a woman to put herself to so much trouble for me, and so I said:

  "It is not worth while, madam. If you will heave another sigh, I think Ican follow it."

  So we got
along all right. Arrived at her official and mysterious den,she asked me to tell her the date of my birth, the exact hour of thatoccurrence, and the color of my grandmother's hair. I answered asaccurately as I could. Then she said:

  "Young man, summon your fortitude--do not tremble. I am about to revealthe past."

  "Information concerning the future would be, in a general way, more--"

  "Silence! You have had much trouble, some joy, some good fortune, somebad. Your great grandfather was hanged."

  "That is a l--"

  "Silence! Hanged sir. But it was not his fault. He could not help it."

  "I am glad you do him justice."

  "Ah--grieve, rather, that the jury did. He was hanged. His star crossesyours in the fourth division, fifth sphere. Consequently you will behanged also."

  "In view of this cheerful--"

  "I must have silence. Yours was not, in the beginning, a criminalnature, but circumstances changed it. At the age of nine you stolesugar. At the age of fifteen you stole money. At twenty you stolehorses. At twenty-five you committed arson. At thirty, hardened incrime, you became an editor. You are now a public lecturer. Worsethings are in store for you. You will be sent to Congress. Next, to thepenitentiary. Finally, happiness will come again--all will be well--youwill be hanged."