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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe American Claimant - Chapter XIX
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The American Claimant - Chapter XIX Post by :CaptainLou Category :Long Stories Author :Mark Twain Date :December 2010 Read :2753

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The American Claimant - Chapter XIX

Meantime the earl and Hawkins were holding a troubled and anxious private
consultation. The earl said:

"The mystery that bothers me, is, where did It get its other arm?"

"Yes--it worries me, too. And another thing troubles me--the apparition
is English. How do you account for that, Colonel?"

"Honestly, I don't know, Hawkins, I don't really know. It is very
confusing and awful."

"Don't you think maybe we've waked up the wrong one?"

"The wrong one? How do you account for the clothes?"

"The clothes are right, there's no getting around it. What are we going
to do? We can't collect, as I see. The reward is for a one-armed
American. This is a two-armed Englishman."

"Well, it may be that that is not objectionable. You see it isn't less
than is called for, it is more, and so,--"

But he saw that this argument was weak, and dropped it. The friends sat
brooding over their perplexities some time in silence. Finally the
earl's face began to glow with an inspiration, and he said, impressively:

"Hawkins, this materialization is a grander and nobler science than we
have dreamed of. We have little imagined what a solemn and stupendous
thing we have done. The whole secret is perfectly clear to me, now,
clear as day. Every man is made up of heredities, long-descended atoms
and particles of his ancestors. This present materialization is
incomplete. We have only brought it down to perhaps the beginning of
this century."

"What do you mean, Colonel!" cried Hawkins, filled with vague alarms by
the old man's awe-compelling words and manner.

"This. We've materialized this burglar's ancestor!"

"Oh, don't-don't say that. It's hideous."

"But it's true, Hawkins, I know it. Look at the facts. This apparition
is distinctly English-note that. It uses good grammar--note that. It is
an Artist--note that. It has the manners and carriage of a gentleman--
note that. Where's your cow-boy? Answer me that."

"Rossmore, this is dreadful-it's too dreadful to think of!"

"Never resurrected a rag of that burglar but the clothes, not a solitary
rag of him but the clothes."

"Colonel, do you really mean--"

The Colonel brought his fist down with emphasis and said:

"I mean exactly this. The materialization was immature, the burglar has
evaded us, this is nothing but a damned ancestor!"

He rose and walked the floor in great excitement.

Hawkins said plaintively:

"It's a bitter disappointment-bitter."

"I know it. I know it, Senator; I feel it as deeply as anybody could.
But we've got to submit--on moral grounds. I need money, but God knows
I am not poor enough or shabby enough to be an accessory to the punishing
of a man's ancestor for crimes committed by that ancestor's posterity."

"But Colonel!" implored Hawkins; "stop and think; don't be rash; you know
it's the only chance we've got to get the money; and besides, the Bible
itself says posterity to the fourth generation shall be punished for the
sins and crimes committed by ancestors four generations back that hadn't
anything to do with them; and so it's only fair to turn the rule around
and make it work both ways."

The Colonel was struck with the strong logic of this position. He strode
up and down, and thought it painfully over. Finally he said:

"There's reason in it; yes, there's reason in it. And so, although it
seems a piteous thing to sweat this poor ancient devil for a burglary he
hadn't the least hand in, still if duty commands I suppose we must give
him up to the authorities."

"I would," said Hawkins, cheered and relieved, "I'd give him up if he was
a thousand ancestors compacted into one."

"Lord bless me, that's just what he is," said Sellers, with something
like a groan, "it's exactly what he is; there's a contribution in him
from every ancestor he ever had. In him there's atoms of priests,
soldiers, crusaders, poets, and sweet and gracious women--all kinds and
conditions of folk who trod this earth in old, old centuries, and
vanished out of it ages ago, and now by act of ours they are summoned
from their holy peace to answer for gutting a one-horse bank away out on
the borders of Cherokee Strip, and it's just a howling outrage!"

"Oh, don't talk like that, Colonel; it takes the heart all out of me, and
makes me ashamed of the part I am proposing to--"

"Wait-I've got it!"

"A saving hope? Shout it out, I am perishing."

"It's perfectly simple; a child would have thought of it. He is all
right, not a flaw in him, as far as I have carried the work. If I've
been able to bring him as far as the beginning of this century, what's to
stop me now? I'll go on and materialize him down to date."

"Land, I never thought of that!" said Hawkins all ablaze with joy again.
"It's the very thing. What a brain you have got! And will he shed the
superfluous arm?"

"He will."

"And lose his English ,accent?"

"It will wholly disappear. He will speak Cherokee Strip--and other forms
of profanity."

"Colonel, maybe he'll confess!"

"Confess? Merely that bank robbery?"

" Merely? Yes, but why 'merely'?"

The Colonel said in his most impressive manner: "Hawkins, he will be
wholly under my command. I will make him confess every crime he ever
committed. There must be a thousand. Do you get the idea?"

"Well--not quite."

"The rewards will come to us."

"Prodigious conception! I never saw such ahead for seeing with a
lightning glance all the outlying ramifications and possibilities of a
central idea."

"It is nothing; it comes natural to me. When his time is out in one jail
he goes to the next and the next, and we shall have nothing to do but
collect the rewards as he goes along. It is a perfectly steady income as
long as we live, Hawkins. And much better than other kinds of
investments, because he is indestructible."

"It looks--it really does look the way you say; it does indeed."

"Look?--why it is. It will not be denied that I have had a pretty wide
and comprehensive financial experience, and I do not hesitate to say that
I consider this one of the most valuable properties I have ever
controlled."

"Do you really think so?"

"I do, indeed."

"O, Colonel, the wasting grind and grief of poverty! If we could realize
immediately. I don't mean sell it all, but sell part-enough, you know,
to--"

"See how you tremble with excitement. That comes of lack of experience.
My boy, when you have been familiar with vast operations as long as I
have, you'll be different. Look at me; is my eye dilated? do you notice
a quiver anywhere? Feel my pulse: plunk-plunk-plunk--same as if I were
asleep. And yet, what is passing through my calm cold mind? A
procession of figures which would make a financial novice drunk just the
sight of them. Now it is by keeping cool, and looking at a thing all
around, that a man sees what's really in it, and saves himself from the
novice's unfailing mistake--the one you've just suggested--eagerness to
realize. Listen to me. Your idea is to sell a part of him for ready
cash. Now mine is--guess."

"I haven't an idea. What is it?"

"Stock him--of course."

"Well, I should never have thought of that."

"Because you are not a financier. Say he has committed a thousand
crimes. Certainly that's a low estimate. By the look of him, even in
his unfinished condition, he has committed all of a million. But call it
only a thousand to be perfectly safe; five thousand reward, multiplied by
a thousand, gives us a dead sure cash basis of--what? Five million
dollars!"

"Wait--let me get my breath."

"And the property indestructible. Perpetually fruitful--perpetually; for
a property with his disposition will go on committing crimes and winning
rewards."

"You daze me, you make my head whirl!"

"Let it whirl, it won't do it any harm. Now that matter is all fixed--
leave it alone. I'll get up the company and issue the stock, all in good
time. Just leave it in my hands. I judge you don't doubt my ability to
work it up for all it is worth.".

"Indeed I don't. I can say that with truth."

"All right, then. That's disposed of. Everything in its turn. We old
operators, go by order and system--no helter-skelter business with us.
What's the next thing on the docket? The carrying on of the
materialization--the bringing it down to date. I will begin on that at
once. I think--

"Look here, Rossmore. You didn't lock It in. A hundred to one it has
escaped!"

"Calm yourself, as to that; don't give yourself any uneasiness."

"But why shouldn't it escape?"

"Let it, if it wants to? What of it?"

"Well, I should consider it a pretty serious calamity."

"Why, my dear boy, once in my power, always in my power. It may go and
come freely. I can produce it here whenever I want it, just by the
exercise of my will."

"Well, I am truly glad to hear that, I do assure you."

"Yes, I shall give it all the painting it wants to do, and we and the
family will make it as comfortable and contented as we can. No occasion
to restrain its movements. I hope to persuade it to remain pretty quiet,
though, because a materialization which is in a state of arrested
development must of necessity be pretty soft and flabby and
substanceless, and--er--by the way, I wonder where It comes from?"

"How? What do you mean?"

The earl pointed significantly--and interrogatively toward the sky.
Hawkins started; then settled into deep reflection; finally shook his
head sorrowfully and pointed downwards.

"What makes you think so, Washington?"

"Well, I hardly know, but really you can see, yourself, that he doesn't
seem to be pining for his last place."

"It's well thought! Soundly deduced. We've done that Thing a favor.
But I believe I will pump it a little, in a quiet way, and find out if we
are right."

"How long is it going to take to finish him off and fetch him down to
date, Colonel?"

"I wish I knew, but I don't. I am clear knocked out by this new detail--
this unforeseen necessity of working a subject down gradually from his
condition of ancestor to his ultimate result as posterity. But I'll make
him hump himself, anyway."

"Rossmore!"

"Yes, dear. We're in the laboratory. Come--Hawkins is here. Mind, now
Hawkins--he's a sound, living, human being to all the family--don't
forget that. Here she comes."

"Keep your seats, I'm not coming in. I just wanted to ask, who is it
that's painting down there?"

"That? Oh, that's a young artist; young Englishman, named Tracy; very
promising--favorite pupil of Hans Christian Andersen or one of the other
old masters--Andersen I'm pretty sure it is; he's going to half-sole some
of our old Italian masterpieces. Been talking to him?"

"Well, only a word. I stumbled right in on him without expecting anybody
was there. I tried to be polite to him; offered him a snack"--(Sellers
delivered a large wink to Hawkins from behind his hand), "but he
declined, and said he wasn't hungry" (another sarcastic wink); "so I
brought some apples" (doublewink), "and he ate a couple of--"

"What!" and the colonel sprang some yards toward the ceiling and came
down quaking with astonishment.

Lady Rossmore was smitten dumb with amazement. She gazed at the sheepish
relic of Cherokee Strip, then at her husband, and then at the guest
again. Finally she said:

"What is the matter with you, Mulberry?"

He did not answer immediately. His back was turned; he was bending over
his chair, feeling the seat of it. But he answered next moment, and
said:

"Ah, there it is; it was a tack."

The lady contemplated him doubtfully a moment, then said, pretty
snappishly:

"All that for a tack! Praise goodness it wasn't a shingle nail, it would
have landed you in the Milky Way. I do hate to have my nerves shook up
so." And she turned on her heel and went her way.

As soon as she was safely out, the Colonel said, in a suppressed voice:

"Come--we must see for ourselves. It must be a mistake."

They hurried softly down and peeped in. Sellers whispered, in a sort of
despair--

It is eating! What a grisly spectacle! Hawkins it's horrible! Take me
away--I can't stand--

They tottered back to the laboratory.

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Tracy made slow progress with his work, for his mind wandered a gooddeal. Many things were puzzling him. Finally a light burst upon him allof a sudden--seemed to, at any rate--and he said to himself, "I've gotthe clew at last--this man's mind is off its balance; I don't know howmuch, but it's off a point or two, sure; off enough to explain this messof perplexities, anyway. These dreadful chromos which he takes for oldmasters; these villainous portraits--which to his frantic mind representRossmores; the hatchments; the pompous name of this ramshackle old crib--Rossmore Towers; and that odd assertion of
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Washington shuddered slightly at the suggestion, then his face took on adreamy look and he dropped into a trance of thought. After a little,Sellers asked him what he was grinding in his mental mill."Well, this. Have you got some secret project in your head whichrequires a Bank of England back of it to make it succeed?"The Colonel showed lively astonishment, and said:"Why, Hawkins, are you a mind-reader?""I? I never thought of such a thing.""Well, then how did you happen to drop onto that idea in this curiousfashion? It's just mind-reading, that's what it is, though you may
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