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Friday, September 12, 2014

Mrs. Faulkner

Guest Blogger Dept.: Mark Twain’s autobiography had to wait, per his instructions, a hundred years after his death before seeing publication. An excerpt from the recently issued Volume Two should give an idea of why this is a must-have book.


Mark Twain
DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY all Vassar, ancient and modern, packed itself into the Hudson Theatre, and I was there. The occasion was a benefit arranged by Vassar and its friends to raise money to aid poor students of that College in getting through the college course. I was not aware that I was to be a feature of the show, and was distressed and most uncomfortably inflamed with blushes when I found it out. Really the distress and the blushes were manufactured, for at bottom I was glad. When the ladies started to lead me through the house to the stage, when the performance was over, I was so coy that everybody admired, and was moved by it. I do things like that with an art that deceives even the hardened and experienced cynic. It has taken me a long time and has cost me much practice to perfect myself in that art, but it was worth the trouble. It makes me the most winning old thing that ever went among confiding girls.

I held a reception on that stage for an hour or two, and all Vassar, ancient and modern, shook hands with me. Some of the moderns were too beautiful for words, and I was very friendly with those. I was so hoping somebody would want to kiss me for my mother, but I didn’t dare to suggest it myself. Presently, however, when it happened, I did what I could to make it contagious, and succeeded. This required art, but I had it in stock. I seemed to take the old and the new as they came, without discrimination, but I averaged the percentage to my advantage, and without anybody’s suspecting, I think.

Among that host I met again as many as half a dozen pretty old girls whom I had met in their bloom at Vassar that time that Susy and I visited the College so long ago. Yesterday, at the University Club, almost all the five hundred were of the young and lovely, untouched by care, unfaded by age. There were girls there from Smith, Wellesley, Radcliffe, Vassar and Barnard, together with a sprinkling of college girls from the South, from the Middle West and the Pacific coast.

I delivered a moral sermon to the Barnard girls at Columbia University a few weeks ago, and now it was like being among old friends. There were dozens of Barnard girls there, scores of them, and I had already shaken hands with them at Barnard. As I have said, the reporter heard many things there yesterday, but there were several which he didn’t hear. One sweet creature wanted to whisper in my ear, and I was nothing loth. She raised her dainty form on tiptoe, lifting herself with a grip of her velvet hands on my shoulders and put her lips to my ear and said “How do you like being the belle of New York?” It was so true, and so gratifying, that it crimsoned me with blushes, and I could make no reply. The reporter lost that.

Two girls, one from Maine, the other from Ohio, were grandchildren of fellow-passengers who sailed with me in the Quaker City in the “Innocents Abroad” excursion thirty-nine years ago. We had a pleasant chat of course. Then a middle-aged lady shook hands and said, “In something approaching the same way, Mr. Clemens, I also am an old friend of yours, for one of my oldest and most intimate friends was also a fellow-passenger of yours in the Quaker City—Mrs. Faulkner.”

By anticipation, my face was beginning to light up. That name blew it out as if it had been a candle. It was a pity that that lady hadn’t penetration enough to realize that this was a good time to drop the matter, or change the subject. But no, she had no more presence of mind than I should have had in her place. There was a pair of us there. She was out of presence of mind, and I couldn’t help her because I was out of it too. She didn’t know what to say, so she said the wrong thing. She said, “Why, don’t you remember Mrs. Faulkner?”

I didn’t know what to say, and so I said the wrong thing. I exposed the fact that I didn’t remember that name. She tottered where she stood. I tottered where I stood. Neither of us could say anything more, and the fact that there was a pack and jam of eager young watchers and listeners all about us didn’t in the least modify the difficulty for us. She melted into the crowd and disappeared, leaving me pretty uncomfortable—and, if signs go for anything, she was uncomfortable herself. People are always turning up who have known me in the distant past, and sometimes it is so but usually it isn’t. This is the first time, however, that I have ever heard of a Quaker City passenger who had never seen that ship. There was no Mrs. Faulkner among the Quaker City’s people.

– 4 April 1906

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