about, this way and that, praising, examining, asking question after question, to keep his attention diverted from murderous ideas until somebody should come by. He answered right along, and soon I caught a blessed sound: I understood him to say he was out hunting cats. He added, “There they are, yonder;” and turned and pointed. I saw four sorry-looking cats crossing the street in procession some forty steps away. I forgot my own troubles for a moment, to venture a pleas for the cats; but before I could get it out, he interrupted with the remark that those were our “engine-house cats,” and went on to say that they were not afraid of doges or any other creature, and followed him around every morning while he shot their breakfast—English sparrows. He called, “Come Dick!” and Dick came, and so did the rest. Aha!—so far from being a madman, he was saner, you see, than the average of our race; for he had a warm spot in him for cats. When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction. So I dropped the barber-shop scheme, and Hercules and I went promenading up and down the Sunday stillnesses, talking, and watching for sparrows, while the four cats followed in patient procession behind. I made so many intelligent observations about cats, that I grew in the estimation of Hercules, right along—that was plain to see; but at last in an unlucky moment I dimmed and spoiled this effect by letting out the fact that I was a poor shot and had no improvable talent in that line. I saw in a flash the damage I had done myself, and hastened to switch off onto something else and try to get back my lost ground. I praised the gun again, and asked where I could get one like it. The address given was unfamiliar to me but I said,—
“I can manage it, though; for Mr. Langdon or Mr. Crane will know.”
Hercules came to a sudden stop; ordered arms; leaned on his gun, and began to inspect me with a face all kindled with interest. He said:
“Do you live up on the East Hill with Mr. Crane, summers?” “Yes.”
“No! But is—is it you?”
I said yes, and he broke all out into welcoming smiles, and put out his hand and said heartily:
“Well, here I’ve been poking round and round with you and never once—Look here, when a man’s done what you’ve done, he don’t need to give a damn whether he can shoot or not!”
What an immense compliment it was!—that “Is it you?” No need to mention names—there aren’t two of you in the world! It was as if he had said, “In my heedlessness I took you for a child’s toy-balloon drifting past my face—and Great Scott, it’s the moon!”
A consciously exaggerated compliment is an offence; but no amount of exaggeration can hurt a compliment if the payer of it doesn’t know he is exaggerating. In fact, if he can superbly seem unconscious, he may depend upon it that even that will answer. There is the instance of that minister of Napoleon’s who arrived late at the council board at a time when six kings were idling around Paris waiting for a chance to solicit concessions and relaxings of one sort or another. The emperor’s brow darkened and he delivered a thunder-blast at the procrastinating minister; who replied with apparently unstudied simplicity—
“Sire, at any other court I had not been late. I hurried as I could, by my way was obstructed by the concourse of tributary kings!”
The brow of the master of the world unclouded. I know how good he felt.
Note: SLC’s previously unpublished piece, “An Incident,” is now collected in Who is Mark Twain? (2009), p.165-8. As per Robert Hirst this snatch “of pure autobiography” (p. xvii) is dated as “September 1887” (p. xxvi). But specifically it is identified as Sept. 11.
October 17, 1887 addition – Sam wrote to the Berkshire Press Club:
Mr. SL Clemens thanks the Berkshire Press Club for this kind invitation & greatly regrets that his occupations
engagements are such as to debar its acceptance / Hartford, Oct. 17 1887 [GottaHaveIt.com website sale June 15, 2009]. Note: the Club had annual dinners; Oliver Wendell Holmes declined to attend in 1880.
1888 addition – Under Anthony Kennedy’s letter to Sam there is a note (MTL 1: 2-3) for more about Kennedy. That publication cites Inland Printer, “‘Mark Twain’ a Poor Typo,” 40 (January 1908): 560, as the source of Kennedy’s letter, but it has been discovered that the letter was published earlier, in Vol.31, p.77 of The Typographical Journal, for 1907. Also noted there is Kennedy’s 1853 employment with Sam on the Missouri Democrat. This publication continues, “In 1888 he ran for delegate in New York, but was defeated. He wrote to