Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Mark in Tragedy and Comedy
MARK IN TRAGEDY AND COMEDY
We had lunch with some of the Herald boys at Cafe des Ambassadeurs, Champs-Elysees, when Dick Benet, editor of "Dalziel's News," joined us. Dick, "contrary to his usual morosity, acted the gay and debonair," to quote Clemens, who suggested that "he must have given the boss the toothache by managing to get his salary raised a hundred francs per annum."
There was much hilarity about that, for we all knew "the boss" for a skinflint, and Mark told a succession of funny stories about his own salary grabs on the "Virginia Enterprise" and other impecunious sheets. All were keenly alive to the treat, only Dick seemed absent-minded, pulling out his watch every little while and keeping an eye on the door.
"You are not afraid of a bum-bailiff now," suggested Mark.
"Neither now, nor at any future time," replied Dick. "Fact is, the wife promised to meet me here and I have an engagement at two o'clock which I mustn't miss under any circumstances whatever." Our friend seemed to be lying under some pressure or excitement.
At one-fifteen a tall, stylish Frenchwoman entered, and Dick rushed up to her with outstretched hands. "So glad you came in time," he murmured. He slurred over the introductions, drew his wife on to the seat next to him, and whispered to her.
At fifteen minutes to two (we adduced the figures later by comparing notes) two strangers in high silk toppers walked up to Dick, saying: "It's time. Monsieur."
Dick nodded, rose, bent over his wife and kissed her on the mouth. Then he shook hands all around, and with some more adieux walked away with his friends. We saw him seated in a cabriolet, then leave it abruptly.
"Victoire, my love, I am so sorry," he said, rushing back and covering his wife's face with kisses "so sorry to leave you."
One more lingering kiss and he was gone.
Half an hour later Mark and I passed by Dalziel's News Bureau, as a man came out of the counting room to paste up "the latest."
"Let's see what it is," said Mark. "Maybe King Leopold is dead, and I mustn't miss putting on court mourning for HIM." This is what we read on the bulletin-board:
"Monsieur Richard Benet, the editor of Dalziel's, was killed in a duel with ——— at 2:15 this afternoon. R.I.P."
Mark was visibly affected. "That poor woman," he kept saying; "a stroke out of the blue. But Dick felt that he was taking leave of her for good; that accounts for his repeated: 'I'm so sorry.'" And much more to that effect.
To get Clemens' mind off the melancholy affair, I suggested "Swithin."
"Done," said Mark, "and we will take him out to supper, for I bet he hasn't got a sou marquis in his jeans."
"Swithin" was Mark's pet name for a Franco-American writer whose real name happened to recall the legend of a Saint, a groundhog, and several kinds of weather.
Meanwhile the heat had taken on a Sahara hue. "It seems to me we are not walking, we are dripping," remarked Clemens, as we climbed the four stairs to the studio. We had been told to walk right in, and we did, accidentally upsetting the screen that separated the anteroom from the office.
Tableau! Here was "Swithin" and his secretary, the one dictating, the other thumping the typewriter and both—stark naked.
"Don't mention it," broke in Mark. "Puris naturalibus is the only way to face this hellish temperature—a white man's solitary chance to get even with civilization! If there were a bathtub, a few banana trees and a fire-spitting mountain around, I would think myself in the Sandwich Islands.
"Talking of sandwiches," he added, "hustle into your tailor-mades and come out for a bite. You must be fearfully hungry—working on a day like this?"
"Swithin" didn't have to be told twice. He dashed into the adjoining room for his clothes, but returned after a little while, still en nature, and swearing like the whole Flanders army. He searched presses, drawers, nooks and corners with hands and eyes.
"Anything missing?'* mocked Mark.
"Only my duds—I bet those confounded roommates of mine—(followed a string of epithets that wouldn't look well in print) stole and pawned them, for they had neither cigarette nor lunch money this morning."
"Come to think," put in the secretary, "I saw Monsieur Hector leave with a bundle."
"My jeans, coat and vest," shrieked "Swithin," tearing his hair, while Mark writhed with laughter.
"And there were fifteen or twenty sous in an inside pocket besides," moaned "Swithin."
"I know Monsieur Hector's hang-out," said the secretary, "and if you like I will go and choke the pawn tickets out of the pair."
"Couldn't do better if you tried," opined Mark, "for no doubt by this time they have devoured the proceeds of their brigandage. Hurry, before they sell the tickets."
We found Hector and his brother-bandit behind a magnum of fake champagne, gourmandizing at the Dead Cat, a newly opened restaurant destined to become famous in Bohemia.
"Sure," they said, "we borrowed old Swithin's old clothes, but expected to bring them back before seven. We are now waiting for the angel who promised to relieve our financial distress, which is only momentary, of course."
They gave up the tickets willingly enough, and we repaired to Mont de Piétè in Rue Lepic.
"Mountain of Pity—a queer name for a hock shop," said Mark when I related the redemption of Swithin's clothes. "I once knew a three-hundred-pound Isaac in 'Frisco, but that is another story."