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Chapter 25

"Classic." A book which people praise and don't read.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

On the rail again--bound for Bendigo. From diary:

October 23. Got up at 6, left at 7.30; soon reached Castlemaine, one of
the rich gold-fields of the early days; waited several hours for a train;
left at 3.40 and reached Bendigo in an hour. For comrade, a Catholic
priest who was better than I was, but didn't seem to know it--a man full
of graces of the heart, the mind, and the spirit; a lovable man. He will
rise. He will be a bishop some day. Later an Archbishop. Later a
Cardinal. Finally an Archangel, I hope. And then he will recall me when
I say, "Do you remember that trip we made from Ballarat to Bendigo, when
you were nothing but Father C., and I was nothing to what I am now?"
It has actually taken nine hours to come from Ballarat to Bendigo. We
could have saved seven by walking. However, there was no hurry.

Bendigo was another of the rich strikes of the early days. It does a
great quartz-mining business, now--that business which, more than any
other that I know of, teaches patience, and requires grit and a steady
nerve. The town is full of towering chimney-stacks, and hoisting-works,
and looks like a petroleum-city. Speaking of patience; for example, one
of the local companies went steadily on with its deep borings and
searchings without show of gold or a penny of reward for eleven years
--then struck it, and became suddenly rich. The eleven years' work had
cost $55,000, and the first gold found was a grain the size of a pin's
head. It is kept under locks and bars, as a precious thing, and is
reverently shown to the visitor, "hats off." When I saw it I had not
heard its history.

"It is gold. Examine it--take the glass. Now how much should you say it
is worth?"

I said:

"I should say about two cents; or in your English dialect, four
farthings."

"Well, it cost L11,000."

"Oh, come!"

"Yes, it did. Ballarat and Bendigo have produced the three monumental
nuggets of the world, and this one is the monumentalest one of the three.
The other two represent 19,000 a piece; this one a couple of thousand
more. It is small, and not much to look at, but it is entitled to (its)
name--Adam. It is the Adam-nugget of this mine, and its children run up
into the millions."

Speaking of patience again, another of the mines was worked, under heavy
expenses, during 17 years before pay was struck, and still another one
compelled a wait of 21 years before pay was struck; then, in both
instances, the outlay was all back in a year or two, with compound
interest.

Bendigo has turned out even more gold than Ballarat. The two together
have produced $650,000,000 worth--which is half as much as California has
produced.

It was through Mr. Blank--not to go into particulars about his name--it
was mainly through Mr. Blank that my stay in Bendigo was made memorably
pleasant and interesting. He explained this to me himself. He told me
that it was through his influence that the city government invited me to
the town-hall to hear complimentary speeches and respond to them; that it
was through his influence that I had been taken on a long pleasure-drive
through the city and shown its notable features; that it was through his
influence that I was invited to visit the great mines; that it was
through his influence that I was taken to the hospital and allowed to see
the convalescent Chinaman who had been attacked at midnight in his lonely
hut eight weeks before by robbers, and stabbed forty-six times and
scalped besides; that it was through his influence that when I arrived
this awful spectacle of piecings and patchings and bandagings was sitting
up in his cot letting on to read one of my books; that it was through his
influence that efforts had been made to get the Catholic Archbishop of
Bendigo to invite me to dinner; that it was through his influence that
efforts had been made to get the Anglican Bishop of Bendigo to ask me to
supper; that it was through his influence that the dean of the editorial
fraternity had driven me through the woodsy outlying country and shown
me, from the summit of Lone Tree Hill, the mightiest and loveliest
expanse of forest-clad mountain and valley that I had seen in all
Australia. And when he asked me what had most impressed me in Bendigo
and I answered and said it was the taste and the public spirit which had
adorned the streets with 105 miles of shade trees, he said that it was
through his influence that it had been done.

But I am not representing him quite correctly. He did not say it was
through his influence that all these things had happened--for that would
have been coarse; he merely conveyed that idea; conveyed it so subtly
that I only caught it fleetingly, as one catches vagrant faint breaths of
perfume when one traverses the meadows in summer; conveyed it without
offense and without any suggestion of egoism or ostentation--but conveyed
it, nevertheless.

He was an Irishman; an educated gentleman; grave, and kindly, and
courteous; a bachelor, and about forty-five or possibly fifty years old,
apparently. He called upon me at the hotel, and it was there that we had
this talk. He made me like him, and did it without trouble. This was
partly through his winning and gentle ways, but mainly through the
amazing familiarity with my books which his conversation showed. He was
down to date with them, too; and if he had made them the study of his
life he could hardly have been better posted as to their contents than he
was. He made me better satisfied with myself than I had ever been
before. It was plain that he had a deep fondness for humor, yet he never
laughed; he never even chuckled; in fact, humor could not win to outward
expression on his face at all. No, he was always grave--tenderly,
pensively grave; but he made me laugh, all along; and this was very
trying--and very pleasant at the same time--for it was at quotations from
my own books.

When he was going, he turned and said:

"You don't remember me?"

"I? Why, no. Have we met before?"

"No, it was a matter of correspondence."

"Correspondence?"

"Yes, many years ago. Twelve or fifteen. Oh, longer than that. But of
course you----" A musing pause. Then he said:

"Do you remember Corrigan Castle?"

"N-no, I believe I don't. I don't seem to recall the name."

He waited a moment, pondering, with the door-knob in his hand, then
started out; but turned back and said that I had once been interested in
Corrigan Castle, and asked me if I would go with him to his quarters in
the evening and take a hot Scotch and talk it over. I was a teetotaler
and liked relaxation, so I said I would.

We drove from the lecture-hall together about half-past ten. He had a
most comfortably and tastefully furnished parlor, with good pictures on
the walls, Indian and Japanese ornaments on the mantel, and here and
there, and books everywhere-largely mine; which made me proud. The light
was brilliant, the easy chairs were deep-cushioned, the arrangements for
brewing and smoking were all there. We brewed and lit up; then he passed
a sheet of note-paper to me and said--

"Do you remember that?"

"Oh, yes, indeed!"

The paper was of a sumptuous quality. At the top was a twisted and
interlaced monogram printed from steel dies in gold and blue and red, in
the ornate English fashion of long years ago; and under it, in neat
gothic capitals was this--printed in blue:

THE MARK TWAIN CLUB
CORRIGAN CASTLE
............187..

"My!" said I, "how did you come by this?"

"I was President of it."

"No!--you don't mean it."

"It is true. I was its first President. I was re-elected annually as
long as its meetings were held in my castle--Corrigan--which was five
years."

Then he showed me an album with twenty-three photographs of me in it.
Five of them were of old dates, the others of various later crops; the
list closed with a picture taken by Falk in Sydney a month before.

"You sent us the first five; the rest were bought."

This was paradise! We ran late, and talked, talked, talked--subject, the
Mark Twain Club of Corrigan Castle, Ireland.

My first knowledge of that Club dates away back; all of twenty years, I
should say. It came to me in the form of a courteous letter, written on
the note-paper which I have described, and signed "By order of the
President; C. PEMBROKE, Secretary." It conveyed the fact that the Club
had been created in my honor, and added the hope that this token of
appreciation of my work would meet with my approval.

I answered, with thanks; and did what I could to keep my gratification
from over-exposure.

It was then that the long correspondence began. A letter came back, by
order of the President, furnishing me the names of the members-thirty-two
in number. With it came a copy of the Constitution and By-Laws, in
pamphlet form, and artistically printed. The initiation fee and dues
were in their proper place; also, schedule of meetings--monthly--for
essays upon works of mine, followed by discussions; quarterly for
business and a supper, without essays, but with after-supper speeches
also, there was a list of the officers: President, Vice-President,
Secretary, Treasurer, etc. The letter was brief, but it was pleasant
reading, for it told me about the strong interest which the membership
took in their new venture, etc., etc. It also asked me for a photograph
--a special one. I went down and sat for it and sent it--with a letter,
of course.

Presently came the badge of the Club, and very dainty and pretty it was;
and very artistic. It was a frog peeping out from a graceful tangle of
grass-sprays and rushes, and was done in enamels on a gold basis, and had
a gold pin back of it. After I had petted it, and played with it, and
caressed it, and enjoyed it a couple of hours, the light happened to fall
upon it at a new angle, and revealed to me a cunning new detail; with the
light just right, certain delicate shadings of the grass-blades and
rush-stems wove themselves into a monogram--mine! You can see that that
jewel was a work of art. And when you come to consider the intrinsic
value of it, you must concede that it is not every literary club that
could afford a badge like that. It was easily worth $75, in the opinion
of Messrs. Marcus and Ward of New York. They said they could not
duplicate it for that and make a profit. By this time the Club was well
under way; and from that time forth its secretary kept my off-hours well
supplied with business. He reported the Club's discussions of my books
with laborious fullness, and did his work with great spirit and ability.
As a, rule, he synopsized; but when a speech was especially brilliant, he
short-handed it and gave me the best passages from it, written out.
There were five speakers whom he particularly favored in that way:
Palmer, Forbes, Naylor, Norris, and Calder. Palmer and Forbes could
never get through a speech without attacking each other, and each in his
own way was formidably effective--Palmer in virile and eloquent abuse,
Forbes in courtly and elegant but scalding satire. I could always tell
which of them was talking without looking for his name. Naylor had a
polished style and a happy knack at felicitous metaphor; Norris's style
was wholly without ornament, but enviably compact, lucid, and strong.
But after all, Calder was the gem. He never spoke when sober, he spoke
continuously when he wasn't. And certainly they were the drunkest
speeches that a man ever uttered. They were full of good things, but so
incredibly mixed up and wandering that it made one's head swim to follow
him. They were not intended to be funny, but they were,--funny for the
very gravity which the speaker put into his flowing miracles of
incongruity. In the course of five years I came to know the styles of
the five orators as well as I knew the style of any speaker in my own
club at home.

These reports came every month. They were written on foolscap, 600 words
to the page, and usually about twenty-five pages in a report--a good
15,000 words, I should say,--a solid week's work. The reports were
absorbingly entertaining, long as they were; but, unfortunately for me,
they did not come alone. They were always accompanied by a lot of
questions about passages and purposes in my books, which the Club wanted
answered; and additionally accompanied every quarter by the Treasurer's
report, and the Auditor's report, and the Committee's report, and the
President's review, and my opinion of these was always desired; also
suggestions for the good of the Club, if any occurred to me.

By and by I came to dread those things; and this dread grew and grew and
grew; grew until I got to anticipating them with a cold horror. For I
was an indolent man, and not fond of letter-writing, and whenever these
things came I had to put everything by and sit down--for my own peace of
mind--and dig and dig until I got something out of my head which would
answer for a reply. I got along fairly well the first year; but for the
succeeding four years the Mark Twain Club of Corrigan Castle was my
curse, my nightmare, the grief and misery of my life. And I got so, so
sick of sitting for photographs. I sat every year for five years, trying
to satisfy that insatiable organization. Then at last I rose in revolt.
I could endure my oppressions no longer. I pulled my fortitude together
and tore off my chains, and was a free man again, and happy. From that
day I burned the secretary's fat envelopes the moment they arrived, and
by and by they ceased to come.

Well, in the sociable frankness of that night in Bendigo I brought this
all out in full confession. Then Mr. Blank came out in the same frank
way, and with a preliminary word of gentle apology said that he was the
Mark Twain Club, and the only member it had ever had!

Why, it was matter for anger, but I didn't feel any. He said he never
had to work for a living, and that by the time he was thirty life had
become a bore and a weariness to him. He had no interests left; they had
paled and perished, one by one, and left him desolate. He had begun to
think of suicide. Then all of a sudden he thought of that happy idea of
starting an imaginary club, and went straightway to work at it, with
enthusiasm and love. He was charmed with it; it gave him something to
do. It elaborated itself on his hands;--it became twenty times more
complex and formidable than was his first rude draft of it. Every new
addition to his original plan which cropped up in his mind gave him a
fresh interest and a new pleasure. He designed the Club badge himself,
and worked over it, altering and improving it, a number of days and
nights; then sent to London and had it made. It was the only one that
was made. It was made for me; the "rest of the Club" went without.

He invented the thirty-two members and their names. He invented the five
favorite speakers and their five separate styles. He invented their
speeches, and reported them himself. He would have kept that Club going
until now, if I hadn't deserted, he said. He said he worked like a slave
over those reports; each of them cost him from a week to a fortnight's
work, and the work gave him pleasure and kept him alive and willing to be
alive. It was a bitter blow to him when the Club died.

Finally, there wasn't any Corrigan Castle. He had invented that, too.

It was wonderful--the whole thing; and altogether the most ingenious and
laborious and cheerful and painstaking practical joke I have ever heard
of. And I liked it; liked to bear him tell about it; yet I have been a
hater of practical jokes from as long back as I can remember. Finally he
said--

"Do you remember a note from Melbourne fourteen or fifteen years ago,
telling about your lecture tour in Australia, and your death and burial
in Melbourne?--a note from Henry Bascomb, of Bascomb Hall, Upper
Holywell Hants."

"Yes."

"I wrote it."

"M-y-word!"

"Yes, I did it. I don't know why. I just took the notion, and carried
it out without stopping to think. It was wrong. It could have done
harm. I was always sorry about it afterward. You must forgive me. I
was Mr. Bascom's guest on his yacht, on his voyage around the world. He
often spoke of you, and of the pleasant times you had had together in his
home; and the notion took me, there in Melbourne, and I imitated his
hand, and wrote the letter."

So the mystery was cleared up, after so many, many years.


Mark Twain