LETTER FROM MARK TWAIN.
Mark's Sea Voyage to San Francisco -- Pleasant Traveling Companions.
Their "Beguilement in the Boat" --
Some of the Worst Jokes Ever Heard.
An Original Charade.
Mark's Lecturing Tour --
May Day Among the Mountains.
VIRGINIA, Nevada, May 1.
Special Correspondence of the Chicago Republican.
I chartered one of the superb vessels of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company for a hundred and eighty thousand dollars, and invited several parties to go along with me, twelve hundred in all. I shall not take so many next time. The fewer people you take with you, the fewer there are to grumble. I did not suppose that any one could find anything to grumble at in so faultless a ship as ours, but I was mistaken. Very few of our twelve hundred had ever been so pleasantly circumstanced before, or had sailed with an abler Captain or a more obliging baggage master, but yet they grumbled. Such is human-nature. The man who drinks beer at home always criticizes the champagne, and finds fault with the Burgundy when he is invited out to dinner.
However, we had fifteen people on board who never growled. From New York to Hatteras they complimented the bitter cold weather and the heavy seas, and said they were excellent for the health. When we sighted Cuba and St. Domingo, and passed into a temperature that grew hourly hotter from there to the isthmus, till the pitch began to stew out of the spars and the ice to spoil and smell offensive, they got out their fans, and fancy summer suits and said they had been perishing to have a taste of Christian heat again. When we took the railway train and went steaming and sweating and scorching across the isthmus, through a gloomy wilderness of tropical vegetation, they ate their luncheon boisterously and lied and smoked and kept a sharp lookout for monkeys and savages, and said it was splendid. When we went shopping for the ladies in the ancient city of Panama, and wandered through the narrow streets for weary hours without finding any one thing we precisely wanted, they said it was fun. That is the kind of people to travel with. Both the ladies and gentlemen of that party persistently refused to be distressed about anything whatsoever. They looked on the bright side of things, and made the best of their opportunities. Going out from Panama they stayed on deck half the night, singing, swapping anecdotes, and going into ecstacies over the beauty of the vessel's glittering wake, and the long sinuous serpents of flashing fire that trailed after the sharks and porpoises frolicking about us. They went ashore, at eventide, at that curious old Mexican town of Acapulco, and made themselves at home. They swung in the native hammocks; they supped at the native restaurant; they joined in a native fandago, and danced to the drumming of a guitar and the soft warbling of an uncommonly greasy "Greaser" and his sweetheart; they reverently entered the Cathedral and by reason of the dimness of the altar candles, mistook a ghastly, bleeding and wounded image of the Saviour, in a great glass case, for a genuine human being, newly murdered -- and then they were hurrying out again with very irreverent haste, when the deception was discovered. They bought long ten-cent strings of fancy sea-shells, and tricked themselves out like Indian chiefs hanging the shells about their necks rather for the sake of convenience in carrying them than for show, however. They warily avoided the bananas, pineapples, oranges, and such things, out of deference to the deadly Isthmian fevers, but they took kindly to a certain snow white flower, gifted with an entrancing fragrance and an unpronounceable name. They bore the clamorings of the dusky Mexican peddler girls, in the small market place, placidly; and when the ship's guns thundered a warning at night, they paddled out, well tired and got aboard just about the same moment the anchor did. For a matter of fourteen to sixteen days of blistering weather, during this voyage (part of the time without ice) these people smoked and read by day, and sang and romped by night, and never wasted a moment in useless complainings. While we had ice they said: "Who cares how hot the weather gets?" and when the ice gave out, they said it was a lucky thing, because ice wasn't healthy in the tropics.
We had one ball on the upper deck, under the awnings, by lantern light. We did not have what you might call a multitude of dancers, but we had six hundred admiring spectators. When we reached cool weather again, within about eight hundred miles of San Francisco four hundred whist players assembled in the main saloon every night. We had music by the minstrel troupe occasionally, and religious services every Sunday.
We established a Jokers' Society and fined every member who furnished an unbearably bad joke. -- We tried one man for his life (the Rajah of Borneo) for building a conundrum of unwarranted atrocity. Mr. Cohen disliked his trunk, and often spoke angrily of its small size. The conundrum touched upon this matter:
"Why is one of the passengers, or his trunk, like a certain geographical, algebraical, geometrical, technical term? Answer -- Because he is a truncated cone (trunk-hated Cohen)."
We hung him. At dinner, one day, in the steamship "Sacramento" on this side, I said something to my roommate while he was carving a piece of veal. A member of the Society said,
"Beware -- remember the sign in the pilot-house: "No conversation with the man at the wheel" (weal-veal.) We hung him, also.
One night the first officer brought the tears to many eyes with a touching story of a shipmate of his, whose leg was bitten off by a shark. A young lady said, "Oh, how shocking!" A member of the society said, "Indeed, it was -- it was very sharking." He was publicly executed.
A merchant from China told us a story of a tiger that ate up a Chinaman, and then ate up his bamboo cart. A member observed that it was the first time that he had ever heard of a tiger dining a la carte. He is no more.
This nonsense reminds me of a circumstance. Once in Washington, during the winter, Riley a fellow-correspondent, who stayed in the same house with me, rushed into my room -- it was past midnight -- and said, "Great God, what can the matter be! What makes that awful smell?"
I said, "Calm yourself, Mr. Riley. There is no occasion for alarm. You smell about as usual."
But he said there was no joke about this matter -- the house was full of smoke -- he had heard dreadful screams -- he recognized the odor of burning human flesh. We soon found out that he was right. A poor old negro woman, a servant in the next house, had fallen on the stove and burned herself so badly that she soon died. It was a sad case, and at breakfast all spoke gloomily of the disaster, and felt low-spirited. The landlady even cried, and that depressed us still more. She said:
"Oh, to think of such a fate! She was so good, and so kind and so faithful. She had worked hard and honestly in that family for twenty-eight long years, and now she is roasted to death -- yes, roasted to crisp, like 80 much beef."
In a grave voice and without even the shadow of a smile, Riley said:
"Well done, good and faithful servant !"
It sounded like a benediction, and the landlady never perceived the joke, but I never came so near choking in my life.
The night before the good ship "Sacramento" reached San Francisco, the Society had a grand reunion and a supper at eleven o'clock, and according to previous orders, every member came forward and read a short poem, written especially for the occasion. Between every two readings a song was sung. Those poems were good, and I copied them for publication, but I have left them in San Francisco. However, I find my own contribution in my note book, and I will publish that -- partly because I never wrote a poem before, and partly because I have a sort of an idea that this is about the best poem that ever was written:
My First my darling gave to me
When last we met -- and parted;
Her only gift it was, and yet
It left me broken-hearted.
My second shot from out her eye,
When she my first conferred;
Lord, how it flamed with irony,
As flames the Phoenix-bird!
My third receive at sundry times,
Donations like to mine,
From fair and false sweet maidenhood --
But duplicates decline!
And each time swear with many an oath.
And many an execration
That when they next,
With love perplexed
Earn similar vexation:
They hope some friend with hob-nailed boot
Inclosing an almighty foot
(Like that of grim McPherson)
My fourth will launch with dire intent,
And muscles firm, and limb unbent
Straight at his august person!
In the grand cathedral's aisle,
Where the sun's dimmed glories smile,
Down through pictured windows old,
Flashed with crimson, blue and gold,
Where the clustering columns loom
Vague and massy, through the gloom --
Where, steeped in slumbers long and deep
The mail-clad old Crusaders sleep,
My Whole the sorrowing sinner sees,
And humbly seeks on bended knees!
The boon is his! hath passed his lips! Behold!
By God's own grace, the heart so cold --
A sad, and torn, and blighted thing --
Is swept as by an angel's wing!
Is healed! is cleansed from every stain!
Is filled with life and hope again.
Answer -- Sac(k)-ra(y) men-to(e,) --
(Spanish -- The Sacrament.)
Where is your Martin Farquhar Tupper now?
HONOR TO WHOM, &C.
My royal room-mate, Captain Cox of the San Francisco department of the Pacific Mail, was the life and soul of this voyage, and the state dinner the passengers gave him in San Francisco the night after our arrival, was a deserved compliment. I do not like to mention names or pay compliments in print, and I seldom do it; but whenever I think of that splendid old chief, slaving night and day to make everybody else comfortable and happy and never once thinking of himself; when I remember him, in the goodness of his true sailor's heart, nursing the babies of sea-sick mothers, and doing all he honestly could to keep those babies right end up when he didn't know how to do it; whenever I remember him turning out of his bunk at unreasonable hours, of the swallowing my smoke and coughing and barking, and yet swearing all the time that tobacco smoke never inconvenienced him; when I remember the night I fell through on him, and he climbed out to inquire, with earnest solicitude was I hurt; when I recall his honest attempts to help the choir out on Sunday mornings with his stormy "Bay of Biscay," which he sang with strict impartiality to all the church tunes which were ever started; when I remembered him in all the varied phases and circumstances of a long sea voyage, and yet can call to mind no moment when he was not a generous and a willing helper of all in time of need, and a gentleman in the best sense of the term, I feel half an inclination to cast my selfish newspaper policy to the winds and pay him a good hearty compliment in print!
PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL.
It was good to get back to San Francisco again, with its generous climate, and its clouded skies -- and better than all, its cordial people, who always shake you by the hand as if they were in solid earnest.
When I had finished the business that brought me home, I lectured for the mutual benefit of the public and myself. It affords me great satisfaction to be able to say that there were eighteen hundred people present, and that sixteen hundred and five of them paid a gold dollar each to get there. Such is the thirst for reliable information in California. It is pleasant to have greenbacks in the State, but somehow it seems pleasanter to handle only gold and silver.
Since then, I have been making a flying trip across the State, and find myself here, in one of my former homes, ready to go back over the mountains again tomorrow. They treated me exceedingly well in Carson (as they always do) and made no attempt whatever to rob me. The people themselves treated me well, here, but the owners of the theater charged me four hundred dollars for the privilege of lecturing in their miserable barn. It was an act of Christian charity to pay it, however, for they hadn't made enough to pay their gas bills for the previous six weeks. I love to go around doing good.
MAY DAY -- A CONTRAST.
I know exactly how this May-Day looks in the Mississippi Valley. There are limpid brooks babbling through forests that are splendid with fresh green foliage; there are grassy nooks here and there, and mysterious avenues, carpeted with wild flowers, mottled with sunshine and shifting shadows, garlanded with vines that swing down from the trees and cross and recross, with many a graceful sweep; avenues that wind in and out among mossy rocks and hazel thickets, till they are lost in the solemn depths of the forest; there are scampering squirrels, and the music of birds; there is a blooming fragrance everywhere, and the softest, dreamiest summer laziness in the atmosphere! And behold, the May parties are abroad in a glory of ribbons and fleecy costumes, and the beautiful Queen of the May, mother, perspires and blushes, and smiles upon her noisy subjects, and is unspeakably proud and happy.
Here 8,000 feet above the sea is May Day, too, and the wintry wind is howling, and it is snowing like all possessed. The feathery flakes fall so thickly that a hundred yards away I see what I know to be men, moving vaguely through the storm like shapeless blurs upon a fog. The houses are mere outlines, filled between with slanting rays of falling snow. I see no grass, no flowers, no trees, no vines. I hear no song of birds, I breathe no fragrant odors. There is no balmy softness in the air. There are only rocks, and sand, and sagebrush -- a gray barrenness all about, compassed round with bleak mountains, capped with snow and turbaned with eternal clouds. It is not Paradise, and yet, to me, this was always a pleasant place to live in.
You must not think we have no May parties here. I saw one this morning. A tribe of school-children, dressed in their best, and bearing a national flag, had gone up the mountain side and perched upon a barren rock to crown their queen of May and to inaugurate a summer that will not arrive, alas! according to the almanac. But the biting winds drove them behind protecting rocky projections, and sported stormily with the girls' dresses and well-nigh whipped their little flag to ribbons. The children shivered and blew their fingers to keep them warm, and had no breath to spare for music in honor of the day. They had chosen high ground, with innocent vanity, in order that the people might behold their festivities from the town -- but in this the unschooled wisdom of youth was sadly at fault. For the world of rolling clouds that brooded upon the summit swung their vast-hinged curtains down, and hid the poor little picnic utterly from sight.
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