THE $30,000 BEQUEST and Other Stories by Mark Twain

But I was mistaken. There was never a prize in the the lot.

I could read of railway accidents every day–the newspaper

atmosphere was foggy with them; but somehow they never came my way.

I found I had spent a good deal of money in the accident business,

and had nothing to show for it. My suspicions were aroused, and I

began to hunt around for somebody that had won in this lottery.

I found plenty of people who had invested, but not an individual

that had ever had an accident or made a cent. I stopped buying

accident tickets and went to ciphering. The result was astounding.


I hunted up statistics, and was amazed to find that after all

the glaring newspaper headlines concerning railroad disasters,

less than THREE HUNDRED people had really lost their lives by those

disasters in the preceding twelve months. The Erie road was set

down as the most murderous in the list. It had killed forty-six–

or twenty-six, I do not exactly remember which, but I know the

number was double that of any other road. But the fact straightway

suggested itself that the Erie was an immensely long road, and did

more business than any other line in the country; so the double

number of killed ceased to be matter for surprise.

By further figuring, it appeared that between New York and Rochester

the Erie ran eight passenger-trains each way every day–16 altogether;

and carried a daily average of 6,000 persons. That is about a million

in six months–the population of New York City. Well, the Erie kills

from 13 to 23 persons of ITS million in six months; and in the same

time 13,000 of New York’s million die in their beds! My flesh crept,

my hair stood on end. “This is appalling!” I said. “The danger

isn’t in traveling by rail, but in trusting to those deadly beds.

I will never sleep in a bed again.”

I had figured on considerably less than one-half the length of

the Erie road. It was plain that the entire road must transport

at least eleven or twelve thousand people every day. There are

many short roads running out of Boston that do fully half as much;

a great many such roads. There are many roads scattered about the

Union that do a prodigious passenger business. Therefore it was fair

to presume that an average of 2,500 passengers a day for each road

in the country would be almost correct. There are 846 railway

lines in our country, and 846 times 2,500 are 2,115,000. So the

railways of America move more than two millions of people every day;

six hundred and fifty millions of people a year, without counting

the Sundays. They do that, too–there is no question about it;

though where they get the raw material is clear beyond the jurisdiction

of my arithmetic; for I have hunted the census through and through,

and I find that there are not that many people in the United States,

by a matter of six hundred and ten millions at the very least.

They must use some of the same people over again, likely.

San Francisco is one-eighth as populous as New York; there are 60

deaths a week in the former and 500 a week in the latter–if they

have luck. That is 3,120 deaths a year in San Francisco, and eight

times as many in New York–say about 25,000 or 26,000. The health

of the two places is the same. So we will let it stand as a fair

presumption that this will hold good all over the country, and that

consequently 25,000 out of every million of people we have must die

every year. That amounts to one-fortieth of our total population.

One million of us, then, die annually. Out of this million ten

or twelve thousand are stabbed, shot, drowned, hanged, poisoned,

or meet a similarly violent death in some other popular way,

such as perishing by kerosene-lamp and hoop-skirt conflagrations,

getting buried in coal-mines, falling off house-tops, breaking

through church, or lecture-room floors, taking patent medicines,

or committing suicide in other forms. The Erie railroad kills 23 to 46;

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Categories: Twain, Mark