FictionForest

Chapter 32 – Dowley’s Humiliation

Mark TwainMay 20, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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WELL, when that cargo arrived toward sunset, Saturday afternoon, I had my hands full to keep
the Marcos from fainting. They were sure Jones and
I were ruined past help, and they blamed themselves
as accessories to this bankruptcy. You see, in addition to the dinner-materials, which called for a sufficiently round sum, I had bought a lot of extras for the
future comfort of the family: for instance, a big lot of
wheat, a delicacy as rare to the tables of their class as
was ice-cream to a hermit’s; also a sizeable deal
dinner-table; also two entire pounds of salt, which
was another piece of extravagance in those people’s
eyes; also crockery, stools, the clothes, a small cask
of beer, and so on. I instructed the Marcos to keep
quiet about this sumptuousness, so as to give me a
chance to surprise the guests and show off a little.
Concerning the new clothes, the simple couple were
like children; they were up and down, all night, to
see if it wasn’t nearly daylight, so that they could put
them on, and they were into them at last as much as
an hour before dawn was due. Then their pleasure —
not to say delirium — was so fresh and novel and inspiring that the sight of it paid me well for the interruptions which my sleep had suffered. The king had
slept just as usual — like the dead. The Marcos could
not thank him for their clothes, that being forbidden;
but they tried every way they could think of to make
him see how grateful they were. Which all went for
nothing: he didn’t notice any change.

It turned out to be one of those rich and rare fall
days which is just a June day toned down to a degree
where it is heaven to be out of doors. Toward noon
the guests arrived, and we assembled under a great tree
and were soon as sociable as old acquaintances. Even
the king’s reserve melted a little, though it was some
little trouble to him to adjust himself to the name of
Jones along at first. I had asked him to try to not
forget that he was a farmer; but I had also considered
it prudent to ask him to let the thing stand at that,
and not elaborate it any. Because he was just the
kind of person you could depend on to spoil a little
thing like that if you didn’t warn him, his tongue was
so handy, and his spirit so willing, and his information
so uncertain.

Dowley was in fine feather, and I early got him
started, and then adroitly worked him around onto his
own history for a text and himself for a hero, and then
it was good to sit there and hear him hum. Self-made
man, you know. They know how to talk. They do
deserve more credit than any other breed of men, yes,
that is true; and they are among the very first to find
it out, too. He told how he had begun life an orphan
lad without money and without friends able to help
him; how he had lived as the slaves of the meanest
master lived; how his day’s work was from sixteen to
eighteen hours long, and yielded him only enough
black bread to keep him in a half-fed condition; how
his faithful endeavors finally attracted the attention of
a good blacksmith, who came near knocking him dead
with kindness by suddenly offering, when he was totally
unprepared, to take him as his bound apprentice for
nine years and give him board and clothes and teach
him the trade — or “mystery” as Dowley called it.
That was his first great rise, his first gorgeous stroke
of fortune; and you saw that he couldn’t yet speak of
it without a sort of eloquent wonder and delight that
such a gilded promotion should have fallen to the lot
of a common human being. He got no new clothing
during his apprenticeship, but on his graduation day
his master tricked him out in spang-new tow-linens
and made him feel unspeakably rich and fine.

“I remember me of that day!” the wheelwright
sang out, with enthusiasm.

“And I likewise!” cried the mason. “I would not
believe they were thine own; in faith I could not.”

“Nor other!” shouted Dowley, with sparkling eyes.
“I was like to lose my character, the neighbors wending I had mayhap been stealing. It was a great day,
a great day; one forgetteth not days like that.”

Yes, and his master was a fine man, and prosperous,
and always had a great feast of meat twice in the year,
and with it white bread, true wheaten bread; in fact,
lived like a lord, so to speak. And in time Dowley
succeeded to the business and married the daughter.

“And now consider what is come to pass,” said
he, impressively. “Two times in every month there
is fresh meat upon my table.” He made a pause
here, to let that fact sink home, then added — “and
eight times salt meat.”

“It is even true,” said the wheelwright, with bated
breath.

“I know it of mine own knowledge,” said the mason,
in the same reverent fashion.

“On my table appeareth white bread every Sunday
in the year,” added the master smith, with solemnity.
“I leave it to your own consciences, friends, if this is
not also true?”

“By my head, yes,” cried the mason.

“I can testify it — and I do,” said the wheelwright.

“And as to furniture, ye shall say yourselves what
mine equipment is. ” He waved his hand in fine
gesture of granting frank and unhampered freedom
of speech, and added: “Speak as ye are moved;
speak as ye would speak; an I were not here.”

“Ye have five stools, and of the sweetest workmanship at that, albeit your family is but three,” said the
wheelwright, with deep respect.

“And six wooden goblets, and six platters of wood
and two of pewter to cat and drink from withal,” said
the mason, impressively. “And I say it as knowing
God is my judge, and we tarry not here alway, but
must answer at the last day for the things said in the
body, be they false or be they sooth.”

“Now ye know what manner of man I am, brother
Jones,” said the smith, with a fine and friendly condescension, “and doubtless ye would look to find me a
man jealous of his due of respect and but sparing of
outgo to strangers till their rating and quality be
assured, but trouble yourself not, as concerning that;
wit ye well ye shall find me a man that regardeth not
these matters but is willing to receive any he as his
fellow and equal that carrieth a right heart in his body,
be his worldly estate howsoever modest. And in token
of it, here is my hand; and I say with my own mouth
we are equals — equals “– and he smiled around on
the company with the satisfaction of a god who is
doing the handsome and gracious thing and is quite
well aware of it.

The king took the hand with a poorly disguised
reluctance, and let go of it as willingly as a lady lets
go of a fish; all of which had a good effect, for it was
mistaken for an embarrassment natural to one who was
being called upon by greatness.

The dame brought out the table now, and set it
under the tree. It caused a visible stir of surprise, it
being brand new and a sumptuous article of deal. But
the surprise rose higher still when the dame, with a
body oozing easy indifference at every pore, but eyes
that gave it all away by absolutely flaming with vanity,
slowly unfolded an actual simon-pure tablecloth and
spread it. That was a notch above even the blacksmith’s domestic grandeurs, and it hit him hard; you
could see it. But Marco was in Paradise; you could
see that, too. Then the dame brought two fine new
stools — whew! that was a sensation; it was visible in
the eyes of every guest. Then she brought two more
— as calmly as she could. Sensation again — with
awed murmurs. Again she brought two — walking on
air, she was so proud. The guests were petrified, and
the mason muttered:

“There is that about earthly pomps which doth
ever move to reverence.”

As the dame turned away, Marco couldn’t help
slapping on the climax while the thing was hot; so he
said with what was meant for a languid composure but
was a poor imitation of it:

“These suffice; leave the rest.”

So there were more yet! It was a fine effect. I
couldn’t have played the hand better myself.

From this out, the madam piled up the surprises
with a rush that fired the general astonishment up to a
hundred and fifty in the shade, and at the same time
paralyzed expression of it down to gasped “Oh’s”
and “Ah’s,” and mute upliftings of hands and eyes.
She fetched crockery — new, and plenty of it; new
wooden goblets and other table furniture; and beer,
fish, chicken, a goose, eggs, roast beef, roast mutton,
a ham, a small roast pig, and a wealth of genuine white
wheaten bread. Take it by and large, that spread laid
everything far and away in the shade that ever that
crowd had seen before. And while they sat there just
simply stupefied with wonder and awe, I sort of waved
my hand as if by accident, and the storekeeper’s son
emerged from space and said he had come to collect.

“That’s all right,” I said, indifferently. “What is
the amount? give us the items.”

Then he read off this bill, while those three amazed
men listened, and serene waves of satisfaction rolled
over my soul and alternate waves of terror and admiration surged over Marco’s:

   2 pounds salt . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   200
   8 dozen pints beer, in the wood . . . . .   800
   3 bushels wheat . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2,700
   2 pounds fish . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   100
   3 hens  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   400
   1 goose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   400
   3 dozen eggs  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   150
   1 roast of beef . . . . . . . . . . . . .   450
   1 roast of mutton . . . . . . . . . . . .   400
   1 ham . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   800
   1 sucking pig . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   500
   2 crockery dinner sets  . . . . . . . . . 6,000
   2 men's suits and underwear . . . . . . . 2,800
   1 stuff and 1 linsey-woolsey gown 
     and underwear . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,600
   8 wooden goblets  . . . . . . . . . . . .   800
   Various table furniture . . . . . . . . .10,000
   1 deal table  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3,000
   8 stools  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4,000
   2 miller guns, loaded . . . . . . . . . . 3,000

He ceased. There was a pale and awful silence.
Not a limb stirred. Not a nostril betrayed the passage
of breath.

“Is that all?” I asked, in a voice of the most perfect calmness.

“All, fair sir, save that certain matters of light moment are placed together under a head hight sundries.
If it would like you, I will sepa –”

“It is of no consequence,” I said, accompanying
the words with a gesture of the most utter indifference;
“give me the grand total, please.”

The clerk leaned against the tree to stay himself, and
said:

“Thirty-nine thousand one hundred and fifty milrays!”

The wheelwright fell off his stool, the others grabbed
the table to save themselves, and there was a deep and
general ejaculation of:

“God be with us in the day of disaster!”

The clerk hastened to say:

“My father chargeth me to say he cannot honorably
require you to pay it all at this time, and therefore
only prayeth you –”

I paid no more heed than if it were the idle breeze,
but, with an air of indifference amounting almost to
weariness, got out my money and tossed four dollars
on to the table. Ah, you should have seen them stare!

The clerk was astonished and charmed. He asked
me to retain one of the dollars as security, until he
could go to town and — I interrupted:

“What, and fetch back nine cents? Nonsense!
Take the whole. Keep the change.”

There was an amazed murmur to this effect:

“Verily this being is MADE of money! He throweth
it away even as if it were dirt.”

The blacksmith was a crushed man.

The clerk took his money and reeled away drunk
with fortune. I said to Marco and his wife:

“Good folk, here is a little trifle for you” — handing the miller-guns as if it were a matter of no consequence, though each of them contained fifteen cents in
solid cash; and while the poor creatures went to pieces
with astonishment and gratitude, I turned to the others
and said as calmly as one would ask the time of day:

“Well, if we are all ready, I judge the dinner is.
Come, fall to.”

Ah, well, it was immense; yes, it was a daisy. I
don’t know that I ever put a situation together better,
or got happier spectacular effects out of the materials
available. The blacksmith — well, he was simply
mashed. Land! I wouldn’t have felt what that man
was feeling, for anything in the world. Here he had
been blowing and bragging about his grand meat-feast
twice a year, and his fresh meat twice a month, and
his salt meat twice a week, and his white bread every
Sunday the year round — all for a family of three; the
entire cost for the year not above 69.2.6 (sixty-nine
cents, two mills and six milrays), and all of a sudden
here comes along a man who slashes out nearly four
dollars on a single blow-out; and not only that, but
acts as if it made him tired to handle such small sums.
Yes, Dowley was a good deal wilted, and shrunk-up
and collapsed; he had the aspect of a bladder-balloon
that’s been stepped on by a cow.

 

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