“Look here,” he said. “Let’s combine our shows. I’ll let my wife do the tight-rope act outside and draw a crowd, and you go inside and lecture.”
The arrangement was not made.
Following custom, the lecturer at first thought it necessary to be introduced, and at each place McCarthy had to skirmish around and find the proper person. At Red Dog, on the Stanislaus, the man selected failed to appear, and Denis had to provide another on short notice. He went down into the audience and captured an old fellow, who ducked and dodged but could not escape. Denis led him to the stage, a good deal frightened.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “this is the celebrated Mark Twain from the celebrated city of San Francisco, with his celebrated lecture about the celebrated Sandwich Islands.”
That was as far as he could go; but it was far enough. Mark Twain never had a better introduction. The audience was in a shouting humor from the start.
Clemens himself used to tell of an introduction at another camp, where his sponsor said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I know only two things about this man: the first is that he’s never been in jail, and the second is I don’t know why.”
But this is probably apocryphal; there is too much “Mark Twain” in it.
When he reached Virginia, Goodman said to him:
“Sam, you do not need anybody to introduce you. There’s a piano on the stage in the theater. Have it brought out in sight, and when the curtain rises you be seated at the piano, playing and singing that song of yours, ‘I Had an Old Horse Whose Name Was Methusalem,’ and don’t seem to notice that the curtain is up at first; then be surprised when you suddenly find out that it is up, and begin talking, without any further preliminaries.”
This proved good advice, and the lecture, thus opened, started off with general hilarity and applause.
His Nevada, lectures were bound to be immensely successful. The people regarded him as their property over there, and at Carson and Virginia the houses overflowed. At Virginia especially his friends urged and begged him to repeat the entertainment, but he resolutely declined.
“I have only one lecture yet,” he said. “I cannot bring myself to give it twice in the same town.”
But that irresponsible imp, Steve Gillis, who was again in Virginia, conceived a plan which would make it not only necessary for him to lecture again, but would supply him with a subject. Steve’s plan was very simple: it was to relieve the lecturer of his funds by a friendly highway robbery, and let an account of the adventure furnish the new lecture.
In ‘Roughing It’ Mark Twain has given a version of this mock robbery which is correct enough as far as it goes; but important details are lacking. Only a few years ago (it was April, 1907), in his cabin on jackass Hill, with Joseph Goodman and the writer of this history present, Steve Gillis made his “death-bed” confession as is here set down: