Sketches New and Old, Part 5. eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (2004)


  When everything was still once more, I crept out of bed, sick and feeble,and lit the gas with a hand that trembled as if it were aged with ahundred years. The light brought some little cheer to my spirits. I satdown and fell into a dreamy contemplation of that great footprint in theashes. By and by its outlines began to waver and grow dim. I glanced upand the broad gas-flame was slowly wilting away. In the same moment Iheard that elephantine tread again. I noted its approach, nearer andnearer, along the musty halls, and dimmer and dimmer the light waned.The tread reached my very door and paused--the light had dwindled to asickly blue, and all things about me lay in a spectral twilight. Thedoor did not open, and yet I felt a faint gust of air fan my cheek, andpresently was conscious of a huge, cloudy presence before me. I watchedit with fascinated eyes. A pale glow stole over the Thing; gradually itscloudy folds took shape--an arm appeared, then legs, then a body, andlast a great sad face looked out of the vapor. Stripped of its filmyhousings, naked, muscular and comely, the majestic Cardiff Giant loomedabove me!

  All my misery vanished--for a child might know that no harm could comewith that benignant countenance. My cheerful spirits returned at once,and in sympathy with them the gas flamed up brightly again. Never alonely outcast was so glad to welcome company as I was to greet thefriendly giant. I said:

  "Why, is it nobody but you? Do you know, I have been scared to death forthe last two or three hours? I am most honestly glad to see you. I wishI had a chair--Here, here, don't try to sit down in that thing--"

  But it was too late. He was in it before I could stop him and down hewent--I never saw a chair shivered so in my life.

  "Stop, stop, you'll ruin ev--"

  Too late again. There was another crash, and another chair was resolvedinto its original elements.

  "Confound it, haven't you got any judgment at' all? Do you want to ruinall the furniture on the place? Here, here, you petrified fool--"

  But it was no use. Before I could arrest him he had sat down on the bed,and it was a melancholy ruin.

  "Now what sort of a way is that to do? First you come lumbering aboutthe place bringing a legion of vagabond goblins along with you to worryme to death, and then when I overlook an indelicacy of costume whichwould not be tolerated anywhere by cultivated people except in arespectable theater, and not even there if the nudity were of your sex,you repay me by wrecking all the furniture you can find to sit down on.And why will you? You damage yourself as much as you do me. You havebroken off the end of your spinal column, and littered up the floor withchips of your hams till the place looks like a marble yard. You ought tobe ashamed of yourself--you are big enough to know better."

  "Well, I will not break any more furniture. But what am I to do? I havenot had a chance to sit down for a century." And the tears came into hiseyes.

  "Poor devil," I said, "I should not have been so harsh with you. And youare an orphan, too, no doubt. But sit down on the floor here--nothingelse can stand your weight--and besides, we cannot be sociable with youaway up there above me; I want you down where I can perch on this highcounting-house stool and gossip with you face to face." So he sat downon the floor, and lit a pipe which I gave him, threw one of my redblankets over his shoulders, inverted my sitz-bath on his head, helmetfashion, and made himself picturesque and comfortable. Then he crossedhis ankles, while I renewed the fire, and exposed the flat, honeycombedbottoms of his prodigious feet to the grateful warmth.

  "What is the matter with the bottom of your feet and the back of yourlegs, that they are gouged up so?"

  "Infernal chilblains--I caught them clear up to the back of my head,roosting out there under Newell's farm. But I love the place; I love itas one loves his old home. There is no peace for me like the peace Ifeel when I am there."

  We talked along for half an hour, and then I noticed that he lookedtired, and spoke of it.

  "Tired?" he said. "Well, I should think so. And now I will tell you allabout it, since you have treated me so well. I am the spirit of thePetrified Man that lies across the street there in the museum. I am theghost of the Cardiff Giant. I can have no rest, no peace, till they havegiven that poor body burial again. Now what was the most natural thingfor me to do, to make men satisfy this wish? Terrify them into it!haunt the place where the body lay! So I haunted the museum night afternight. I even got other spirits to help me. But it did no good, fornobody ever came to the museum at midnight. Then it occurred to me tocome over the way and haunt this place a little. I felt that if I evergot a hearing I must succeed, for I had the most efficient company thatperdition could furnish. Night after night we have shivered aroundthrough these mildewed halls, dragging chains, groaning, whispering,tramping up and down stairs, till, to tell you the truth, I am almostworn out. But when I saw a light in your room to-night I roused myenergies again and went at it with a deal of the old freshness. But I amtired out--entirely fagged out. Give me, I beseech you, give me somehope!" I lit off my perch in a burst of excitement, and exclaimed:

  "This transcends everything! everything that ever did occur! Why youpoor blundering old fossil, you have had all your trouble for nothing--you have been haunting a plaster cast of yourself--the real CardiffGiant is in Albany!--[A fact. The original fraud was ingeniously andfraudfully duplicated, and exhibited in New York as the "only genuine"Cardiff Giant (to the unspeakable disgust of the owners of the realcolossus) at the very same time that the latter was drawing crowds at amuseum is Albany,]--Confound it, don't you know your own remains?"

  I never saw such an eloquent look of shame, of pitiable humiliation,overspread a countenance before.

  The Petrified Man rose slowly to his feet, and said:

  "Honestly, is that true?"

  "As true as I am sitting here."

  He took the pipe from his mouth and laid it on the mantel, then stoodirresolute a moment (unconsciously, from old habit, thrusting his handswhere his pantaloons pockets should have been, and meditatively droppinghis chin on his breast); and finally said:

  "Well-I never felt so absurd before. The Petrified Man has soldeverybody else, and now the mean fraud has ended by selling its ownghost! My son, if there is any charity left in your heart for a poorfriendless phantom like me, don't let this get out. Think how you wouldfeel if you had made such an ass of yourself."

  I heard his stately tramp die away, step by step down the stairs and outinto the deserted street, and felt sorry that he was gone, poor fellow--and sorrier still that he had carried off my red blanket and mybath-tub.

  THE CAPITOLINE VENUS

  CHAPTER I

  [Scene-An Artist's Studio in Rome.]

  "Oh, George, I do love you!"

  "Bless your dear heart, Mary, I know that--why is your father soobdurate?"

  "George, he means well, but art is folly to him--he only understandsgroceries. He thinks you would starve me."

  "Confound his wisdom--it savors of inspiration. Why am I not amoney-making bowelless grocer, instead of a divinely gifted sculptorwith nothing to eat?"

  "Do not despond, Georgy, dear--all his prejudices will fade away as soonas you shall have acquired fifty thousand dol--"

  "Fifty thousand demons! Child, I am in arrears for my board!"

  CHAPTER II

  [Scene-A Dwelling in Rome.]

  "My dear sir, it is useless to talk. I haven't anything against you, butI can't let my daughter marry a hash of love, art, and starvation--Ibelieve you have nothing else to offer."

  "Sir, I am poor, I grant you. But is fame nothing? The Hon. BellamyFoodle of Arkansas says that my new statue of America, is a clever pieceof sculpture, and he is satisfied that my name will one day be famous."

  "Bosh! What does that Arkansas ass know about it? Fame's nothing--themarket price of your marble scarecrow is the thing to look at. It tookyou six months to chisel it, and you can't sell it for a hundred dollars.No, sir! Show me fifty thousand dollars and you can have my daughter--otherwise she marries young Simper. You h
ave just six months to raisethe money in. Good morning, sir."

  "Alas! Woe is me!"

  CHAPTER III

  [ Scene-The Studio.]

  "Oh, John, friend of my boyhood, I am the unhappiest of men."

  "You're a simpleton!"

  "I have nothing left to love but my poor statue of America--and see, evenshe has no sympathy for me in her cold marble countenance--so beautifuland so heartless!"

  "You're a dummy!"

  "Oh, John!"

  Oh, fudge! Didn't you say you had six months to raise the money in?"

  "Don't deride my agony, John. If I had six centuries what good would itdo? How could it help a poor wretch without name, capital, or friends?"

  "Idiot! Coward! Baby! Six months to raise the money in--and five willdo!"

  "Are you insane?"

  "Six months--an abundance. Leave it to me. I'll raise it."

  "What do you mean, John? How on earth can you raise such a monstrous sumfor me?"

  "Will you let that be my business, and not meddle? Will you leave thething in my hands? Will you swear to submit to whatever I do? Will youpledge me to find no fault with my actions?"

  "I am dizzy--bewildered--but I swear."

  John took up a hammer and deliberately smashed the nose of America! Hemade another pass and two of her fingers fell to the floor--another, andpart of an ear came away--another, and a row of toes was mangled anddismembered--another, and the left leg, from the knee down, lay afragmentary ruin!

  John put on his hat and departed.

  George gazed speechless upon the battered and grotesque nightmare beforehim for the space of thirty seconds, and then wilted to the floor andwent into convulsions.

  John returned presently with a carriage, got the broken-hearted artistand the broken-legged statue aboard, and drove off, whistling low andtranquilly.

  He left the artist at his lodgings, and drove off and disappeared downthe Via Quirinalis with the statue.

  CHAPTER IV

  [Scene--The Studio.]

  "The six months will be up at two o'clock to-day! Oh, agony! My life isblighted. I would that I were dead. I had no supper yesterday. I havehad no breakfast to-day. I dare not enter an eating-house. And hungry?--don't mention it! My bootmaker duns me to death--my tailor duns me--my landlord haunts me. I am miserable. I haven't seen John since thatawful day. She smiles on me tenderly when we meet in the greatthoroughfares, but her old flint of a father makes her look in the otherdirection in short order. Now who is knocking at that door? Who is cometo persecute me? That malignant villain the bootmaker, I'll warrant.Come in!"

  "Ah, happiness attend your highness--Heaven be propitious to your grace!I have brought my lord's new boots--ah, say nothing about the pay, thereis no hurry, none in the world. Shall be proud if my noble lord willcontinue to honor me with his custom--ah, adieu!"

  "Brought the boots himself! Don't wait his pay! Takes his leave with abow and a scrape fit to honor majesty withal! Desires a continuance ofmy custom! Is the world coming to an end? Of all the--come in!"

  "Pardon, signore, but I have brought your new suit of clothes for--"

  "Come in!"

  "A thousand pardons for this intrusion, your worship. But I haveprepared the beautiful suite of rooms below for you--this wretched den isbut ill suited to--"

  "Come in!"

  "I have called to say that your credit at our bank, some time sinceunfortunately interrupted, is entirely and most satisfactorily restored,and we shall be most happy if you will draw upon us for any--"

  "COME IN!"

  "My noble boy, she is yours! She'll be here in a moment! Take her--marry her--love her--be happy!--God bless you both! Hip, hip, hur--"

  "COME IN!!!!!"

  "Oh, George, my own darling, we are saved!"

  "Oh, Mary, my own darling, we are saved--but I'll swear I don't know whynor how!"

  CHAPTER V

  [Scene-A Roman Cafe.]

  One of a group of American gentlemen reads and translates from the weeklyedition of 'Il Slangwhanger di Roma' as follows:

  WONDERFUL DISCOVERY--Some six months ago Signor John Smitthe, an Americangentleman now some years a resident of Rome, purchased for a trifle asmall piece of ground in the Campagna, just beyond the tomb of the Scipiofamily, from the owner, a bankrupt relative of the Princess Borghese.Mr. Smitthe afterward went to the Minister of the Public Records and hadthe piece of ground transferred to a poor American artist named GeorgeArnold, explaining that he did it as payment and satisfaction forpecuniary damage accidentally done by him long since upon propertybelonging to Signor Arnold, and further observed that he would makeadditional satisfaction by improving the ground for Signor A., at his owncharge and cost. Four weeks ago, while making some necessary excavationsupon the property, Signor Smitthe unearthed the most remarkable ancientstatue that has ever bees added to the opulent art treasures of Rome.It was an exquisite figure of a woman, and though sadly stained by thesoil and the mold of ages, no eye can look unmoved upon its ravishingbeauty. The nose, the left leg from the knee down, an ear, and also thetoes of the right foot and two fingers of one of the hands were gone,but otherwise the noble figure was in a remarkable state of preservation.The government at once took military possession of the statue, andappointed a commission of art-critics, antiquaries, and cardinal princesof the church to assess its value and determine the remuneration thatmust go to the owner of the ground in which it was found. The wholeaffair was kept a profound secret until last night. In the mean time thecommission sat with closed doors and deliberated. Last night theydecided unanimously that the statue is a Venus, and the work of someunknown but sublimely gifted artist of the third century before Christ.They consider it the most faultless work of art the world has anyknowledge of.

  At midnight they held a final conference and, decided that the Venus wasworth the enormous sum of ten million francs! In accordance with Romanlaw and Roman usage, the government being half-owner in all works of artfound in the Campagna, the State has naught to do but pay five millionfrancs to Mr. Arnold and take permanent possession of the beautifulstatue. This morning the Venus will be removed to the Capitol, there toremain, and at noon the commission will wait upon Signor Arnold with HisHoliness the Pope's order upon the Treasury for the princely sum of fivemillion francs is gold!

  Chorus of Voices.--"Luck! It's no name for it!"

  Another Voice.--"Gentlemen, I propose that we immediately form anAmerican joint-stock company for the purchase of lands and excavations ofstatues here, with proper connections in Wall Street to bull and bear thestock."

  All.--"Agreed."

  CHAPTER VI

  [Scene--The Roman Capitol Ten Years Later.]

  "Dearest Mary, this is the most celebrated statue in the world. This isthe renowned 'Capitoline Venus' you've heard so much about. Here she iswith her little blemishes 'restored' (that is, patched) by the most notedRoman artists--and the mere fact that they did the humble patching of sonoble a creation will make their names illustrious while the worldstands. How strange it seems this place! The day before I last stoodhere, ten happy years ago, I wasn't a rich man bless your soul, I hadn'ta cent. And yet I had a good deal to do with making Rome mistress ofthis grandest work of ancient art the world contains."

  "The worshiped, the illustrious Capitoline Venus--and what a sum she isvalued at! Ten millions of francs!"

  "Yes--now she is."

  "And oh, Georgy, how divinely beautiful she is!"

  "Ah, yes but nothing to what she was before that blessed John Smith brokeher leg and battered her nose. Ingenious Smith!--gifted Smith!--nobleSmith! Author of all our bliss! Hark! Do you know what that wheezemeans? Mary, that cub has got the whooping-cough. Will you never learnto take care of the children!"

  THE END

  The Capitoline Venus is still in the Capitol at Rome, and is still themost charming and most illustrious work of ancient art the world canboast of. But if ever it shall be your
fortune to stand before it and gointo the customary ecstasies over it, don't permit this true and secrethistory of its origin to mar your bliss--and when you read about agigantic Petrified man being dug up near Syracuse, in the State of NewYork, or near any other place, keep your own counsel--and if the Barnumthat buried him there offers to sell to you at an enormous sum, don't youbuy. Send him to the Pope!