One by one those who sat within easy reach of the various exits melted away, until no one remained but Mark Twain. Perhaps he saw the earnestness of the young man, and sympathized with it. He may have remembered a time when he would have been grateful for one such attentive auditor. At all events, he sat perfectly still, never taking his eyes from the reader, never showing the least inclination toward discomfort or impatience, but listening, as with rapt attention, to the very last line. Douglas Taylor, one of the faithful Saturday-night members, said to him later:
“Mark, how did you manage to sit through that dreary, interminable poem?”
“Well,” he said, “that young man thought he had a divine message to deliver, and I thought he was entitled to at least one auditor, so I stayed with him.”
We may believe that for that one auditor the young author was willing to sacrifice all the others.
One might continue these anecdotes for as long as the young man’s poem lasted, and perhaps hold as large an audience. But anecdotes are not all of history. These are set down because they reflect a phase of the man and an aspect of his life at this period. For at the most we can only present an angle here and there, and tell a little of the story, letting each reader from his fancy construct the rest.
HIS FIRST STAGE APPEARANCE
Once that winter the Monday Evening Club met at Mark Twain’s home, and instead of the usual essay he read them a story: “The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut.” It was the story of a man’s warfare with a personified conscience—a, sort of “William Wilson” idea, though less weird, less somber, and with more actuality, more verisimilitude. It was, in fact, autobiographical, a setting-down of the author’s daily self-chidings. The climax, where conscience is slain, is a startling picture which appeals to most of humanity. So vivid is it all, that it is difficult in places not to believe in the reality of the tale, though the allegory is always present.
The club was deeply impressed by the little fictional sermon. One of its ministerial members offered his pulpit for the next Sunday if Mark Twain would deliver it to his congregation. Howells welcomed it for the Atlantic, and published it in June. It was immensely successful at the time, though for some reason it seems to be little known or remembered to-day. Now and then a reader mentions it, always with enthusiasm. Howells referred to it repeatedly in his letters, and finally persuaded Clemens to let Osgood bring it out, with “A True Story,” in dainty, booklet form. If the reader does not already know the tale, it will pay him to look it up and read it, and then to read it again.
Meantime Tom Sawyer remained unpublished.
“Get Bliss to hurry it up!” wrote Howells. “That boy is going to make a prodigious hit.”