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CHAPTER XXV: Bound for Bendigo - The Priest at Castlemaine - Time Saved by Walking-Description of Bendigo - A Valuable Nugget - Perseverence and Success-Mr. Blank and His Influence - Conveyance of an Idea - I Had to Like the Irishman - Corrigan Castle, and the Mark Twain Club - My Bascom Mystery Solved
"Classic." A book which people praise and don't read.
- Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
On the rail again - bound for Bendigo. From diary:
October 23. Got up at 6, left at 7.30; soon reached Castlemaine, one of the rich gold-fields of the early days; waited several hours for a train; left at 3.40 and reached Bendigo in an hour. For comrade, a Catholic priest who was better than I was, but didn't seem to know it - a man full of graces of the heart, the mind, and the spirit; a lovable man. He will rise. He will be a bishop some day. Later an Archbishop. Later a Cardinal. Finally an Archangel, I hope. And then he will recall me when I say, "Do you remember that trip we made from Ballarat to Bendigo, when you were nothing but Father C., and I was nothing to what I am now?" It has actually taken nine hours to come from Ballarat to Bendigo. We could have saved seven by walking. However, there was no hurry.
Bendigo was another of the rich strikes of the early days. It does a great quartz-mining business, now - that business which, more than any other that I know of, teaches patience, and requires grit and a steady nerve. The town is full of towering chimney-stacks, and hoisting-works, and looks like a petroleum-city. Speaking of patience; for example, one of the local companies went steadily on with its deep borings and searchings without show of gold or a penny of reward for eleven years-then struck it, and became suddenly rich. The eleven years' work had cost $55,000, and the first gold found was a grain the size of a pin's head. It is kept under locks and bars, as a precious thing, and is reverently shown to the visitor, "hats off." When I saw it I had not heard its history.
"It is gold. Examine it - take the glass. Now how much should you say it is worth?"
"I should say about two cents; or in your English dialect, four farthings."
"Well, it cost L11,000."
"Yes, it did. Ballarat and Bendigo have produced the three monumental nuggets of the world, and this one is the monumentalest one of the three. The other two represent 19,000 a piece; this one a couple of thousand more. It is small, and not much to look at, but it is entitled to (its) name - Adam. It is the Adam-nugget of this mine, and its children run up into the millions."
Speaking of patience again, another of the mines was worked, under heavy expenses, during 17 years before pay was struck, and still another one compelled a wait of 21 years before pay was struck; then, in both instances, the outlay was all back in a year or two, with compound interest.
Bendigo has turned out even more gold than Ballarat. The two together have produced $650,000,000 worth - which is half as much as California has produced.
It was through Mr. Blank - not to go into particulars about his name - it was mainly through Mr. Blank that my stay in Bendigo was made memorably pleasant and interesting. He explained this to me himself. He told me that it was through his influence that the city government invited me to the town-hall to hear complimentary speeches and respond to them; that it was through his influence that I had been taken on a long pleasure-drive through the city and shown its notable features; that it was through his influence that I was invited to visit the great mines; that it was through his influence that I was taken to the hospital and allowed to see the convalescent Chinaman who had been attacked at midnight in his lonely hut eight weeks before by robbers, and stabbed forty-six times and scalped besides; that it was through his influence that when I arrived this awful spectacle of piecings and patchings and bandagings was sitting up in his cot letting on to read one of my books; that it was through his influence that efforts had been made to get the Catholic Archbishop of Bendigo to invite me to dinner; that it was through his influence that efforts had been made to get the Anglican Bishop of Bendigo to ask me to supper; that it was through his influence that the dean of the editorial fraternity had driven me through the woodsy outlying country and shown me, from the summit of Lone Tree Hill, the mightiest and loveliest expanse of forest-clad mountain and valley that I had seen in all Australia. And when he asked me what had most impressed me in Bendigo and I answered and said it was the taste and the public spirit which had adorned the streets with 105 miles of shade trees, he said that it was through his influence that it had been done.
But I am not representing him quite correctly. He did not say it was through his influence that all these things had happened - for that would have been coarse; be merely conveyed that idea; conveyed it so subtly that I only caught it fleetingly, as one catches vagrant faint breaths of perfume when one traverses the meadows in summer; conveyed it without offense and without any suggestion of egoism or ostentation - but conveyed it, nevertheless.
He was an Irishman; an educated gentleman; grave, and kindly, and courteous; a bachelor, and about forty-five or possibly fifty years old, apparently. He called upon me at the hotel, and it was there that we had this talk. He made me like him, and did it without trouble. This was partly through his winning and gentle ways, but mainly through the amazing familiarity with my books which his conversation showed. He was down to date with them, too; and if he had made them the study of his life he could hardly have been better posted as to their contents than he was. He made me better satisfied with myself than I had ever been before. It was plain that he had a deep fondness for humor, yet he never laughed; he never even chuckled; in fact, humor could not win to outward expression on his face at all. No, he was always grave - tenderly, pensively grave; but he made me laugh, all along; and this was very trying - and very pleasant at the same time - for it was at quotations from my own books.
When he was going, he turned and said:
"You don't remember me?"
"I? Why, no. Have we met before?"
"No, it was a matter of correspondence."
"Yes, many years ago. Twelve or fifteen. Oh, longer than that. But of course you - - " A musing pause. Then he said:
"Do you remember Corrigan Castle?"
"N-no, I believe I don't. I don't seem to recall the name."
He waited a moment, pondering, with the door-knob in his hand, then started out; but turned back and said that I had once been interested in Corrigan Castle, and asked me if I would go with him to his quarters in the evening and take a hot Scotch and talk it over. I was a teetotaler and liked relaxation, so I said I would.
We drove from the lecture-hall together about half-past ten. He had a most comfortably and tastefully furnished parlor, with good pictures on the walls, Indian and Japanese ornaments on the mantel, and here and there, and books everywhere-largely mine; which made me proud. The light was brilliant, the easy chairs were deep-cushioned, the arrangements for brewing and smoking were all there. We brewed and lit up; then he passed a sheet of note-paper to me and said -
"Do you remember that?"
"Oh, yes, indeed!"
The paper was of a sumptuous quality. At the top was a twisted and interlaced monogram printed from steel dies in gold and blue and red, in the ornate English fashion of long years ago; and under it, in neat gothic capitals was this - printed in blue:
THE MARK TWAIN CLUB
"My!" said I, "how did you come by this?"
"I was President of it."
"No! - you don't mean it."
"It is true. I was its first President. I was re-elected annually as long as its meetings were held in my castle - Corrigan - which was five years."
Then he showed me an album with twenty-three photographs of me in it. Five of them were of old dates, the others of various later crops; the list closed with a picture taken by Falk in Sydney a month before.
"You sent us the first five; the rest were bought."
This was paradise! We ran late, and talked, talked, talked - subject, the Mark Twain Club of Corrigan Castle, Ireland.
My first knowledge of that Club dates away back; all of twenty years, I should say. It came to me in the form of a courteous letter, written on the note-paper which I have described, and signed "By order of the President; C. PEMBROKE, Secretary." It conveyed the fact that the Club had been created in my honor, and added the hope that this token of appreciation of my work would meet with my approval.
I answered, with thanks; and did what I could to keep my gratification from over-exposure.
It was then that the long correspondence began. A letter came back, by order of the President, furnishing me the names of the members-thirty-two in number. With it came a copy of the Constitution and By-Laws, in pamphlet form, and artistically printed. The initiation fee and dues were in their proper place; also, schedule of meetings - monthly - for essays upon works of mine, followed by discussions; quarterly for business and a supper, without essays, but with after-supper speeches also, there was a list of the officers: President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, etc. The letter was brief, but it was pleasant reading, for it told me about the strong interest which the membership took in their new venture, etc., etc. It also asked me for a photograph - a special one. I went down and sat for it and sent it - with a letter, of course.
Presently came the badge of the Club, and very dainty and pretty it was; and very artistic. It was a frog peeping out from a graceful tangle of grass-sprays and rushes, and was done in enamels on a gold basis, and had a gold pin back of it. After I had petted it, and played with it, and caressed it, and enjoyed it a couple of hours, the light happened to fall upon it at a new angle, and revealed to me a cunning new detail; with the light just right, certain delicate shadings of the grass-blades and rushstems wove themselves into a monogram - mine! You can see that that jewel was a work of art. And when you come to consider the intrinsic value of it, you must concede that it is not every literary club that could afford a badge like that. It was easily worth $75, in the opinion of Messrs. Marcus and Ward of New York. They said they could not duplicate it for that and make a profit. By this time the Club was well under way; and from that time forth its secretary kept my off-hours well supplied with business. He reported the Club's discussions of my books with laborious fullness, and did his work with great spirit and ability. As a, rule, he synopsized; but when a speech was especially brilliant, he short-handed it and gave me the best passages from it, written out. There were five speakers whom he particularly favored in that way: Palmer, Forbes, Naylor, Norris, and Calder. Palmer and Forbes could never get through a speech without attacking each other, and each in his own way was formidably effective - Palmer in virile and eloquent abuse, Forbes in courtly and elegant but scalding satire. I could always tell which of them was talking without looking for his name. Naylor had a polished style and a happy knack at felicitous metaphor; Norris's style was wholly without ornament, but enviably compact, lucid, and strong. But after all, Calder was the gem. He never spoke when sober, he spoke continuously when he wasn't. And certainly they were the drunkest speeches that a man ever uttered. They were full of good things, but so incredibly mixed up and wandering that it made one's head swim to follow him. They were not intended to be funny, but they were, - funny for the very gravity which the speaker put into his flowing miracles of incongruity. In the course of five years I came to know the styles of the five orators as well as I knew the style of any speaker in my own club at home.
These reports came every month. They were written on foolscap, 600 words to the page, and usually about twenty-five pages in a report - a good 15,000 words, I should say, - a solid week's work. The reports were absorbingly entertaining, long as they were; but, unfortunately for me, they did not come alone. They were always accompanied by a lot of questions about passages and purposes in my books, which the Club wanted answered; and additionally accompanied every quarter by the Treasurer's report, and the Auditor's report, and the Committee's report, and the President's review, and my opinion of these was always desired; also suggestions for the good of the Club, if any occurred to me.
By and by I came to dread those things; and this dread grew and grew and grew; grew until I got to anticipating them with a cold horror. For I was an indolent man, and not fond of letter-writing, and whenever these things came I had to put everything by and sit down - for my own peace of mind - and dig and dig until I got something out of my head which would answer for a reply. I got along fairly well the first year; but for the succeeding four years the Mark Twain Club of Corrigan Castle was my curse, my nightmare, the grief and misery of my life. And I got so, so sick of sitting for photographs. I sat every year for five years, trying to satisfy that insatiable organization. Then at last I rose in revolt. I could endure my oppressions no longer. I pulled my fortitude together and tore off my chains, and was a free man again, and happy. From that day I burned the secretary's fat envelopes the moment they arrived, and by and by they ceased to come.
Well, in the sociable frankness of that night in Bendigo I brought this all out in full confession. Then Mr. Blank came out in the same frank way, and with a preliminary word of gentle apology said that he was the Mark Twain Club, and the only member it had ever had!
Why, it was matter for anger, but I didn't feel any. He said he never had to work for a living, and that by the time he was thirty life had become a bore and a weariness to him. He had no interests left; they had paled and perished, one by one, and left him desolate. He had begun to think of suicide. Then all of a sudden he thought of that happy idea of starting an imaginary club, and went straightway to work at it, with enthusiasm and love. He was charmed with it; it gave him something to do. It elaborated itself on his hands; - it became twenty times more complex and formidable than was his first rude draft of it. Every new addition to his original plan which cropped up in his mind gave him a fresh interest and a new pleasure. He designed the Club badge himself, and worked over it, altering and improving it, a number of days and nights; then sent to London and had it made. It was the only one that was made. It was made for me; the "rest of the Club" went without.
He invented the thirty-two members and their names. He invented the five favorite speakers and their five separate styles. He invented their speeches, and reported them himself. He would have kept that Club going until now, if I hadn't deserted, he said. He said he worked like a slave over those reports; each of them cost him from a week to a fortnight's work, and the work gave him pleasure and kept him alive and willing to be alive. It was a bitter blow to him when the Club died.
Finally, there wasn't any Corrigan Castle. He had invented that, too.
It was wonderful - the whole thing; and altogether the most ingenious and laborious and cheerful and painstaking practical joke I have ever heard of. And I liked it; liked to bear him tell about it; yet I have been a hater of practical jokes from as long back as I can remember. Finally he said -
"Do you remember a note from Melbourne fourteen or fifteen years ago, telling about your lecture tour in Australia, and your death and burial in Melbourne? - a note from Henry Bascomb, of Bascomb Hall, Upper Holywell Hants."
"I wrote it."
"Yes, I did it. I don't know why. I just took the notion, and carried it out without stopping to think. It was wrong. It could have done harm. I was always sorry about it afterward. You must forgive me. I was Mr. Bascom's guest on his yacht, on his voyage around the world. He often spoke of you, and of the pleasant times you had had together in his home; and the notion took me, there in Melbourne, and I imitated his hand, and wrote the letter."
So the mystery was cleared up, after so many, many years.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXVI: Where New Zealand Is - But Few Know - Things People Think They Know - The Yale Professor and His Visitor from N. Z.