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Chapter 20

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three
unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience,
and the prudence never to practice either of them.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

From diary:

Mr. G. called. I had not seen him since Nauheim, Germany--several years
ago; the time that the cholera broke out at Hamburg. We talked of the
people we had known there, or had casually met; and G. said:

"Do you remember my introducing you to an earl--the Earl of C.?"

"Yes. That was the last time I saw you. You and he were in a carriage,
just starting--belated--for the train. I remember it."

"I remember it too, because of a thing which happened then which I was
not looking for. He had told me a while before, about a remarkable and
interesting Californian whom he had met and who was a friend of yours,
and said that if he should ever meet you he would ask you for some
particulars about that Californian. The subject was not mentioned that
day at Nauheim, for we were hurrying away, and there was no time; but the
thing that surprised me was this: when I induced you, you said, 'I am
glad to meet your lordship gain.' The I again' was the surprise. He is
a little hard of hearing, and didn't catch that word, and I thought you
hadn't intended that he should. As we drove off I had only time to say,
'Why, what do you know about him?' and I understood you to say, 'Oh,
nothing, except that he is the quickest judge of----' Then we were gone,
and I didn't get the rest. I wondered what it was that he was such a
quick judge of. I have thought of it many times since, and still
wondered what it could be. He and I talked it over, but could not guess
it out. He thought it must be fox-hounds or horses, for he is a good
judge of those--no one is a better. But you couldn't know that, because
you didn't know him; you had mistaken him for some one else; it must be
that, he said, because he knew you had never met him before. And of
course you hadn't had you?"

"Yes, I had."

"Is that so? Where?"

"At a fox-hunt, in England."

"How curious that is. Why, he hadn't the least recollection of it. Had
you any conversation with him?"

"Some--yes."

"Well, it left not the least impression upon him. What did you talk
about?"

"About the fox. I think that was all."

"Why, that would interest him; that ought to have left an impression.
What did he talk about?"

"The fox."

It's very curious. I don't understand it. Did what he said leave an
impression upon you?"

"Yes. It showed me that he was a quick judge of--however, I will tell
you all about it, then you will understand. It was a quarter of a
century ago 1873 or '74. I had an American friend in London named F.,
who was fond of hunting, and his friends the Blanks invited him and me to
come out to a hunt and be their guests at their country place. In the
morning the mounts were provided, but when I saw the horses I changed my
mind and asked permission to walk. I had never seen an English hunter
before, and it seemed to me that I could hunt a fox safer on the ground.
I had always been diffident about horses, anyway, even those of the
common altitudes, and I did not feel competent to hunt on a horse that
went on stilts. So then Mrs. Blank came to my help and said I could go
with her in the dog-cart and we would drive to a place she knew of, and
there we should have a good glimpse of the hunt as it went by.

"When we got to that place I got out and went and leaned my elbows on a
low stone wall which enclosed a turfy and beautiful great field with
heavy wood on all its sides except ours. Mrs. Blank sat in the dog-cart
fifty yards away, which was as near as she could get with the vehicle.
I was full of interest, for I had never seen a fox-hunt. I waited,
dreaming and imagining, in the deep stillness and impressive tranquility
which reigned in that retired spot. Presently, from away off in the
forest on the left, a mellow bugle-note came floating; then all of a
sudden a multitude of dogs burst out of that forest and went tearing by
and disappeared in the forest on the right; there was a pause, and then
a cloud of horsemen in black caps and crimson coats plunged out of the
left-hand forest and went flaming across the field like a prairie-fire,
a stirring sight to see. There was one man ahead of the rest, and he
came spurring straight at me. He was fiercely excited. It was fine to
see him ride; he was a master horseman. He came like, a storm till he
was within seven feet of me, where I was leaning on the wall, then he
stood his horse straight up in the air on his hind toe-nails, and shouted
like a demon:

"'Which way'd the fox go?'

"I didn't much like the tone, but I did not let on; for he was excited,
you know. But I was calm; so I said softly, and without acrimony:

"'Which fox?'

"It seemed to anger him. I don't know why; and he thundered out:

"'WHICH fox? Why, THE fox? Which way did the FOX go?'

"I said, with great gentleness--even argumentatively:

"'If you could be a little more definite--a little less vague--because I
am a stranger, and there are many foxes, as you will know even better
than I, and unless I know which one it is that you desire to identify,
and----'

"'You're certainly the damdest idiot that has escaped in a thousand
years!' and he snatched his great horse around as easily as I would
snatch a cat, and was away like a hurricane. A very excitable man.

"I went back to Mrs. Blank, and she was excited, too--oh, all alive. She
said:

"'He spoke to you!--didn't he?'

"'Yes, it is what happened.'

"'I knew it! I couldn't hear what he said, but I knew he spoke to you! Do
you know who it was? It was Lord C., and he is Master of the Buckhounds!
Tell me--what do you think of him?'

"'Him? Well, for sizing-up a stranger, he's got the most sudden and
accurate judgment of any man I ever saw.'

"It pleased her. I thought it would."

G. got away from Nauheim just in time to escape being shut in by the
quarantine-bars on the frontiers; and so did we, for we left the next
day. But G. had a great deal of trouble in getting by the Italian
custom-house, and we should have fared likewise but for the
thoughtfulness of our consul-general in Frankfort. He introduced me to
the Italian consul-general, and I brought away from that consulate a
letter which made our way smooth. It was a dozen lines merely commending
me in a general way to the courtesies of servants in his Italian
Majesty's service, but it was more powerful than it looked. In addition
to a raft of ordinary baggage, we had six or eight trunks which were
filled exclusively with dutiable stuff--household goods purchased in
Frankfort for use in Florence, where we had taken a house. I was going
to ship these through by express; but at the last moment an order went
throughout Germany forbidding the moving of any parcels by train unless
the owner went with them. This was a bad outlook. We must take these
things along, and the delay sure to be caused by the examination of them
in the custom-house might lose us our train. I imagined all sorts of
terrors, and enlarged them steadily as we approached the Italian
frontier. We were six in number, clogged with all that baggage, and I
was courier for the party the most incapable one they ever employed.

We arrived, and pressed with the crowd into the immense custom-house, and
the usual worries began; everybody crowding to the counter and begging to
have his baggage examined first, and all hands clattering and chattering
at once. It seemed to me that I could do nothing; it would be better to
give it all up and go away and leave the baggage. I couldn't speak the
language; I should never accomplish anything. Just then a tall handsome
man in a fine uniform was passing by and I knew he must be the
station-master--and that reminded me of my letter. I ran to him and put
it into his hands. He took it out of the envelope, and the moment his
eye caught the royal coat of arms printed at its top, he took off his cap
and made a beautiful bow to me, and said in English:

"Which is your baggage? Please show it to me."

I showed him the mountain. Nobody was disturbing it; nobody was
interested in it; all the family's attempts to get attention to it had
failed--except in the case of one of the trunks containing the dutiable
goods. It was just being opened. My officer said:

"There, let that alone! Lock it. Now chalk it. Chalk all of the lot.
Now please come and show the hand-baggage."

He plowed through the waiting crowd, I following, to the counter, and he
gave orders again, in his emphatic military way:

"Chalk these. Chalk all of them."

Then he took off his cap and made that beautiful bow again, and went his
way. By this time these attentions had attracted the wonder of that acre
of passengers, and the whisper had gone around that the royal family were
present getting their baggage chalked; and as we passed down in review on
our way to the door, I was conscious of a pervading atmosphere of envy
which gave me deep satisfaction.

But soon there was an accident. My overcoat pockets were stuffed with
German cigars and linen packages of American smoking tobacco, and a
porter was following us around with this overcoat on his arm, and
gradually getting it upside down. Just as I, in the rear of my family,
moved by the sentinels at the door, about three hatfuls of the tobacco
tumbled out on the floor. One of the soldiers pounced upon it, gathered
it up in his arms, pointed back whence I had come, and marched me ahead
of him past that long wall of passengers again--he chattering and
exulting like a devil, they smiling in peaceful joy, and I trying to look
as if my pride was not hurt, and as if I did not mind being brought to
shame before these pleased people who had so lately envied me. But at
heart I was cruelly humbled.

When I had been marched two-thirds of the long distance and the misery of
it was at the worst, the stately station-master stepped out from
somewhere, and the soldier left me and darted after him and overtook him;
and I could see by the soldier's excited gestures that he was betraying
to him the whole shabby business. The station-master was plainly very
angry. He came striding down toward me, and when he was come near he
began to pour out a stream of indignant Italian; then suddenly took off
his hat and made that beautiful bow and said:

"Oh, it is you! I beg a thousands pardons! This idiot here---" He turned
to the exulting soldier and burst out with a flood of white-hot Italian
lava, and the next moment he was bowing, and the soldier and I were
moving in procession again--he in the lead and ashamed, this time, I with
my chin up. And so we marched by the crowd of fascinated passengers, and
I went forth to the train with the honors of war. Tobacco and all.

Mark Twain