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No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger

Mark Twain


  NO. 44,





  The Library offers for the first time popular editions of Mark Twain’s best works just as he wanted them to be read. These moderately priced volumes, faithfully reproduced from the California scholarly editions and printed on acid-free paper, are sparingly annotated and include all the original illustrations that Mark Twain commissioned and enjoyed.

  “Huck waited for no particulars. He sprang away and sped down the hill as fast as his legs could carry him.”


  Mark Twain’s manuscript for the title page

  * * *


  * * *




  * * *

  Foreword and Notes by

  John S. Tuckey

  Text established by

  William M. Gibson

  and the staff of the Mark Twain Project

  A publication of the

  Mark Twain Project of The Bancroft Library

  University of California Press

  Berkeley Los Angeles London

  This Mark Twain Library text of No. 44 is a photographic reproduction of the text published in Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts, ed. William M. Gibson (University of California Press, 1969), which was approved by the Center for Editions of American Authors (CEAA). Editorial work on that text was made possible by a generous grant, administered through the CEAA, from the Research Materials Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

  University of California Press, one of the most distinguished university presses in the United States, enriches lives around the world by advancing scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Its activities are supported by the UC Press Foundation and by philanthropic contributions from individuals and institutions. For more information, visit

  University of California Press

  Berkeley and Los Angeles, California

  University of California Press, Ltd.

  London, England

  The text of No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger is © 1969 by the Mark Twain Company (now the Mark Twain Foundation), which reserves all reproduction or dramatization rights in every medium. Editorial foreword, explanatory notes, glossary, and note on the text are © 1982, 2003 by The Regents of the University of California.

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  ISBN 978-0-520-27000-8 (pbk. : alk. paper)

  The Library of Congress has cataloged an earlier edition of this book as follows:

  Twain, Mark, 1835–1910.

  No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger

  (The Mark Twain Library)

  Originally published as part of Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts: Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

  Includes bibliographical references.

  I. Twain, Mark, 1835–1910. Mysterious stranger. II. Title. III. Series:

  Twain, Mark, 1835–1910. Mark Twain Library.

  PS1322.M97 1982 813′.4 81-40326

  The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R 1997) (Permanence of Paper).

  The Mark Twain Library is designed by Steve Renick.


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  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34





  * * *

  This fantasy-rich last novel by Mark Twain was written during his late sixties and early seventies. It is his final version of a story that survives in three distinct drafts, all of which he left unpublished at the time of his death in 1910. By 1908 he had carried this version to novel length and had written the remarkable, indeed uncanny, final chapter, but he had not taken steps to publish his work. The reader now has in his hands the only story Mark Twain himself ever called “The Mysterious Stranger.” But a quite different, editorially fabricated tale, partly based on an earlier, incomplete draft, has long borne that title as a purported work by Mark Twain. A false “Stranger” has thus been parading before the world while the real one has remained hidden and unknown. If Mark Twain’s surviving spirit has the human scene in view, the prank-loving humorist is probably enjoying the resulting confusion.

  The setting of the story is medieval Austria, and the prevailing tone might be fairly described as gothic. Mark Twain had been fascinated by medieval settings as early as 1859, when as a young man of twenty-four he had written “The Mysterious Murders in Risse,” and as late as 1889 and 1896, when he had published A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and Joan of Arc. Although he took some pains to use authentic details in all these works, Mark Twain habitually imbued the narrative with his more intimate, firsthand knowledge of his own home town, Hannibal, Missouri.

  In No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger he drew heavily on his early recollections of his own midwestern boyhood. He did so not to write again about adventures along the Mississippi, as he had done in Tom Sawyer (1876) and Huckleberry Finn (1885), but to bring the special magic of those memories into a scene laid in an imaginary European village in 1490. He also made use of his more recent impressions of the Swiss town of Weggis, by Lake Lucerne, where he had lived while making notes for this story. Psychologically considered, Eseldorf (German for “Assville”) is, however, the world—complacent in its drowsiness, populated with unawakened minds. The main action of the novel takes place, by contrast, in a printshop—a potentially subversive center of enlightenment. The printshop is hidden within the labyrinthine expanses of a vast, mouldering castle with hundreds of empty rooms, suggestive of the unused capacities of the human brain. In writing of the printshop, Mark Twain was again recalling early experiences in Hannibal, where he had in his twelfth year been apprenticed to the printing trade. Starting as a printer’s devil, even as the character he curiously calls “44,” the young Sam Clemens had been required to do the dirtiest work of the shop—such as washing type, inking forms, and cleaning out the receptacle for broken type metal known as the hellbox. Also, like 44, he had creative powers that were to lift him immensely above such a lowly station: printer’s devil, yes, but possessed of a powerful dæmon.

  First appearing at the castle as a penniless lad seeking work, 44 quickly shows himself to be no ordinary human being. To August Feldner, the young printshop worker who tells the story, he displays an ability to do miracles. Mysterious and incredible thing
s begin to happen around the castle. August is guided by 44 in exploring unknown possibilities of life that may be attained through the higher powers of mind.

  This long overlooked last novel by Mark Twain, rich in fantasy and full of magical events, is a psychic adventure, a journey into the deeper mind and beyond—into the realm of the unconscious and of dream experiences, and on at last to that appalling void which one must brave in order to become whole. The phantasmagoric effects, the sudden shifts in time, place, scene, and mood, are fitting aspects of this tale spun out of dream-stuff.

  John S. Tuckey


  NO. 44,




  Chapter 1

  It was in 1490—winter. Austria was far away from the world, and asleep; it was still the Middle Ages in Austria, and promised to remain so forever. Some even set it away back centuries upon centuries and said that by the mental and spiritual clock it was still the Age of Faith in Austria. But they meant it as a compliment, not a slur, and it was so taken, and we were all proud of it. I remember it well, although I was only a boy; and I remember, too, the pleasure it gave me.

  Yes, Austria was far from the world, and asleep, and our village was in the middle of that sleep, being in the middle of Austria. It drowsed in peace in the deep privacy of a hilly and woodsy solitude where news from the world hardly ever came to disturb its dreams, and was infinitely content. At its front flowed the tranquil river, its surface painted with cloud-forms and the reflections of drifting arks and stone-boats; behind it rose the woody steeps to the base of the lofty precipice; from the top of the precipice frowned the vast castle of Rosenfeld, its long stretch of towers and bastions mailed in vines; beyond the river, a league to the left, was a tumbled expanse of forest-clothed hills cloven by winding gorges where the sun never penetrated; and to the right, a precipice overlooked the river, and between it and the hills just spoken of lay a far-reaching plain dotted with little homesteads nested among orchards and shade-trees.

  The whole region for leagues around was the hereditary property of prince Rosenfeld, whose servants kept the castle always in perfect condition for occupancy, but neither he nor his family came there oftener than once in five years. When they came it was as if the lord of the world had arrived, and had brought all the glories of its kingdoms along; and when they went they left a calm behind which was like the deep sleep which follows an orgy.

  Eseldorf was a paradise for us boys. We were not overmuch pestered with schooling. Mainly we were trained to be good Catholics; to revere the Virgin, the Church and the saints above everything; to hold the Monarch in awful reverence, speak of him with bated breath, uncover before his picture, regard him as the gracious provider of our daily bread and of all our earthly blessings, and ourselves as being sent into the world with the one only mission, to labor for him, bleed for him, die for him, when necessary. Beyond these matters we were not required to know much; and in fact, not allowed to. The priests said that knowledge was not good for the common people, and could make them discontented with the lot which God had appointed for them, and God would not endure discontentment with His plans. This was true, for the priests got it of the Bishop.

  It was discontentment that came so near to being the ruin of Gretel Marx the dairyman’s widow, who had two horses and a cart, and carried milk to the market town. A Hussite woman named Adler came to Eseldorf and went slyly about, and began to persuade some of the ignorant and foolish to come privately by night to her house and hear “God’s real message,” as she called it. She was a cunning woman, and sought out only those few who could read—flattering them by saying it showed their intelligence, and that only the intelligent could understand her doctrine. She gradually got ten together, and these she poisoned nightly with her heresies in her house. And she gave them Hussite sermons, all written out, to keep for their own, and persuaded them that it was no sin to read them.

  One day Father Adolf came along and found the widow sitting in the shade of the horse-chestnut that stood by her house, reading these iniquities. He was a very loud and zealous and strenuous priest, and was always working to get more reputation, hoping to be a Bishop some day; and he was always spying around and keeping a sharp lookout on other people’s flocks as well as his own; and he was dissolute and profane and malicious, but otherwise a good enough man, it was generally thought. And he certainly had talent; he was a most fluent and chirpy speaker, and could say the cuttingest things and the wittiest, though a little coarse, maybe—however it was only his enemies who said that, and it really wasn’t any truer of him than of others; but he belonged to the village council, and lorded it there, and played smart dodges that carried his projects through, and of course that nettled the others; and in their resentment they gave him nicknames privately, and called him the “Town Bull,” and “Hell’s Delight,” and all sorts of things; which was natural, for when you are in politics you are in the wasp’s nest with a short shirt-tail, as the saying is.

  He was rolling along down the road, pretty full and feeling good, and braying “We’ll sing the wine-cup and the lass” in his thundering bass, when he caught sight of the widow reading her book. He came to a stop before her and stood swaying there, leering down at her with his fishy eyes, and his purple fat face working and grimacing, and said—

  “What is it you’ve got there, Frau Marx? What are you reading?”

  She let him see. He bent down and took one glance, then he knocked the writings out of her hand and said angrily—

  “Burn them, burn them, you fool! Don’t you know it’s a sin to read them? Do you want to damn your soul? Where did you get them?”

  She told him, and he said—

  “By God I expected it. I will attend to that woman; I will make this place sultry for her. You go to her meetings, do you? What does she teach you—to worship the Virgin?”

  “No—only God.”

  “I thought it. You are on your road to hell. The Virgin will punish you for this—you mark my words.” Frau Marx was getting frightened; and was going to try to excuse herself for her conduct, but Father Adolf shut her up and went on storming at her and telling her what the Virgin would do with her, until she was ready to swoon with fear. She went on her knees and begged him to tell her what to do to appease the Virgin. He put a heavy penance on her, scolded her some more, then took up his song where he had left off, and went rolling and zigzagging away.

  But Frau Marx fell again, within the week, and went back to Frau Adler’s meeting one night. Just four days afterward both of her horses died! She flew to Father Adolf, full of repentance and despair, and cried and sobbed, and said she was ruined and must starve; for how could she market her milk now? What must she do? tell her what to do. He said—

  “I told you the Virgin would punish you—didn’t I tell you that? Hell’s bells! did you think I was lying? You’ll pay attention next time, I reckon.”

  Then he told her what to do. She must have a picture of the horses painted, and walk on pilgrimage to the Church of Our Lady of the Dumb Creatures, and hang it up there, and make her offerings; then go home and sell the skins of her horses and buy a lottery ticket bearing the number of the date of their death, and then wait in patience for the Virgin’s answer. In a week it came, when Frau Marx was almost perishing with despair—her ticket drew fifteen hundred ducats!

  That is the way the Virgin rewards a real repentance. Frau Marx did not fall again. In her gratitude she went to those other women and told them her experience and showed them how sinful and foolish they were and how dangerously they were acting; and they all burned their sermons and returned repentant to the bosom of the Church, and Frau Adler had to carry her poisons to some other market. It was the best lesson and the wholesomest our village ever had. It never allowed another Hussite to come there; and for reward the Virgin watched over it and took care of it personally, and made it fortunate and prosperous always.

  It was in conducting funera
ls that Father Adolf was at his best, if he hadn’t too much of a load on, but only about enough to make him properly appreciate the sacredness of his office. It was fine to see him march his procession through the village, between the kneeling ranks, keeping one eye on the candles blinking yellow in the sun to see that the acolytes walked stiff and held them straight, and the other watching out for any dull oaf that might forget himself and stand staring and covered when the Host was carried past. He would snatch that oaf’s broad hat from his head, hit him a staggering whack in the face with it and growl out in a low snarl—

  “Where’s your manners, you beast?—and the Lord God passing by!”

  Whenever there was a suicide he was active. He was on hand to see that the government did its duty and turned the family out into the road, and confiscated its small belongings and didn’t smouch any of the Church’s share; and he was on hand again at midnight when the corpse was buried at the cross-roads—not to do any religious office, for of course that was not allowable—but to see, for himself, that the stake was driven through the body in a right and permanent and workmanlike way.

  It was grand to see him make procession through the village in plague-time, with our saint’s relics in their jeweled casket, and trade prayers and candles to the Virgin for her help in abolishing the pest.

  And he was always on hand at the bridge-head on the 9th of December, at the Assuaging of the Devil. Ours was a beautiful and massive stone bridge of five arches, and was seven hundred years old. It was built by the Devil in a single night. The prior of the monastery hired him to do it, and had trouble to persuade him, for the Devil said he had built bridges for priests all over Europe, and had always got cheated out of his wages; and this was the last time he would trust a Christian if he got cheated now. Always before, when he built a bridge, he was to have for his pay the first passenger that crossed it—everybody knowing he meant a Christian, of course. But no matter, he didn’t say it, so they always sent a jackass or a chicken or some other undamnable passenger across first, and so got the best of him. This time he said Christian, and wrote it in the bond himself, so there couldn’t be any misunderstanding. And that isn’t tradition, it is history, for I have seen that bond myself, many a time; it is always brought out on Assuaging Day, and goes to the bridge-head with the procession; and anybody who pays ten groschen can see it and get remission of thirty-three sins besides, times being easier for every one then than they are now, and sins much cheaper; so much cheaper that all except the very poorest could afford them. Those were good days, but they are gone and will not come any more, so every one says.