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

It was four years ago; but it will be four hundred before I forget

the wind of self-complacency that rose in me, and strained my

buttons when I marked the deference for me evoked in the faces of my

fellow-rabble, and noted, mingled with it, a puzzled and resentful

expression which said, as plainly as speech could have worded it:

“And who in the nation is the Herr Mark Twain UM GOTTESWILLEN?”

How many times in your life have you heard this boastful remark:

“I stood as close to him as I am to you; I could have put out my

hand and touched him.”

We have all heard it many and many a time. It was a proud

distinction to be able to say those words. It brought envy to

the speaker, a kind of glory; and he basked in it and was happy

through all his veins. And who was it he stood so close to?

The answer would cover all the grades. Sometimes it was a king;

sometimes it was a renowned highwayman; sometimes it was an unknown

man killed in an extraordinary way and made suddenly famous by it;

always it was a person who was for the moment the subject of public

interest of a village.

“I was there, and I saw it myself.” That is a common and

envy-compelling remark. It can refer to a battle; to a handing;

to a coronation; to the killing of Jumbo by the railway-train;

to the arrival of Jenny Lind at the Battery; to the meeting of the

President and Prince Henry; to the chase of a murderous maniac;

to the disaster in the tunnel; to the explosion in the subway;

to a remarkable dog-fight; to a village church struck by lightning.

It will be said, more or less causally, by everybody in America who has

seen Prince Henry do anything, or try to. The man who was absent

and didn’t see him to anything, will scoff. It is his privilege;

and he can make capital out of it, too; he will seem, even to himself,

to be different from other Americans, and better. As his opinion

of his superior Americanism grows, and swells, and concentrates

and coagulates, he will go further and try to belittle the distinction

of those that saw the Prince do things, and will spoil their pleasure

in it if he can. My life has been embittered by that kind of persons.

If you are able to tell of a special distinction that has fallen

to your lot, it gravels them; they cannot bear it; and they try

to make believe that the thing you took for a special distinction

was nothing of the kind and was meant in quite another way.

Once I was received in private audience by an emperor. Last week

I was telling a jealous person about it, and I could see him wince

under it, see him bite, see him suffer. I revealed the whole episode

to him with considerable elaboration and nice attention to detail.

When I was through, he asked me what had impressed me most.

I said:

“His Majesty’s delicacy. They told me to be sure and back

out from the presence, and find the door-knob as best I could;

it was not allowable to face around. Now the Emperor knew it would

be a difficult ordeal for me, because of lack of practice; and so,

when it was time to part, he turned, with exceeding delicacy,

and pretended to fumble with things on his desk, so I could get

out in my own way, without his seeing me.”

It went home! It was vitriol! I saw the envy and disgruntlement rise

in the man’s face; he couldn’t keep it down. I saw him try to fix

up something in his mind to take the bloom off that distinction.

I enjoyed that, for I judged that he had his work cut out for him.

He struggled along inwardly for quite a while; then he said,

with a manner of a person who has to say something and hasn’t anything

relevant to say:

“You said he had a handful of special-brand cigars on the table?”

“Yes; _I_ never said anything to match them.”

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Categories: Twain, Mark