Mark Twain's Burglar
Now a Devoted Reader of Man He Robbed
To the Next Burglar:
There is only plated ware in this house now and henceforth.
You will find it in that brass thing in the dining room over in the corner by the basket of kittens.
If you want the basket, put the kittens in the brass thing.
Do not make noise - it disturbs the family.
You will find rubbers in the front hall by that thing that has the umbrellas in it - chiffonier, I think they call it, or pergola, or something like that.
Please close the door when you go away.
Very truly yours,
S. L. Clemens
"Yes," said a giant of a man with a heavy face and large, powerful hands; "yes, that little note was called forth by me. It was written just after a friend of mine and myself broke into Mark Twain's place, "Stormfield."
He smiled at Mark Twain's now famous bit of fooling with a reminiscent air.
"It was a long time ago," he went on, staring at nothing; "sixteen years."
He lapsed into silence.
"Do you remember much about it?"
"Yes," he replied calmly, "I remember it, all right. I got ten years in the Connecticut State Prison for it."
After a pause he added with a chuckle: "It was 'that brass thing' mentioned by Mark Twain in his little note to the next nocturnal visitor that made all the trouble.
" 'That brass thing' was a large brass bowl on the sideboard, and when we tried to get the silver out, my friend noticed it. He was afraid we'd knock it off, so he took it down carefully and laid it on the floor. That was a bad move.
"You see," said the ex-burglar in a matter of fact tone, "we didn't want to make any more noise than we could help, anyway. And when we tried to break into the sideboard, it began to seem pretty risky. So we decided to take the sideboard out. We moved it down the road a way, and - "
"Moved it out of the house, and down the road," he replied patiently.
"The whole sideboard?"
"Sure. And when we got it out and away from the house we opened it. That was all right. But we went back after that to see what else we could find.
The Faux Pax.
We didn't get very far on that second trip. My friend was moving around in a quiet sort of way, when all of a sudden there came a terrific band from the part of the room where he was. It was 'that brass thing' he had taken so carefully off the sideboard; he'd gone and stumbled over it in the dark where it lay on the floor.
"Well, after that things began to happen, and they happened fast. Somebody came down from upstairs and turned on a flashlight from the stair landing.
" 'Hello,' said this person, but we didn't wait to answer politely. We decided that it was about time to blow, and we did that without losing any time. We decided to get the early morning train away from those parts. That was a bad move too. There weren't very many people on it, and we were a little conspicuous, I guess. You know how all those trains are - everybody knows everybody else, or pretty close to it. But we were strangers.
"However, we didn't have much time to feel out of it on account of being strangers. All of a sudden twelve men came into the car, and the way they looked at us made us pretty sure they wanted to have us join them.
"My friend ran to the other end of the car, out through the door and jumped off the train. It's a wonder he didn't break his neck; that train must have been going about fifty miles an hour. I didn't have much time to think about what had happened to him, though. Those fellows made a beeline for me.
"The first of them had a gun, and it was pointed in my direction. So I took out my own gun - I had it right here like this, in my right-hand coat pocket. It took it out and I let fly with two or three shots toward the ceiling of the car. I thought might be able to scare them. But I was fooled. There were all old hands at that sort of thing. One of them got close enough to hit me over the head with a blackjack. Right here is where he landed."
The ex-burglar pushed back the hair from his forehead and showed a white scar just at the hair's edge.
His Favorite Author.
"He hit me with it," went on the ex-burglar, frowning, "and then I got mad. I grabbed hold of him and we started to wrestle around in the aisle of the car. I tripped him, but he swung me around as we fell and landed on top of me. He was a big man, bigger than I. He had me by the wrist, but I was crazy by that time, couldn't see what I was doing, on account of the blood in my eyes. I wriggled the gun around into something and pulled. Later I learned I had shot the policeman in the leg.
"I say 'later', because that's all I can remember until I found myself lying on the embankment beside the train with handcuffs on.
"Then came the trial, and I got ten years. It was interesting to hear what Mark Twain had to say about my visit. He said I scared away most of the servants and didn't get what I was after; and that now I was in jail, and that if I kept on I would go to Congress."
Albert Bigelow Paine, in his biography of Mark Twain, says:
"Claude, the butler, fired a pistol after them (the burglars) to hasten their departure and Clemens, wakened by the shots, thought the family was opening champagne and went to sleep again."
One would expect that the Mark Twain burglar might have some feeling of bitterness in connection with any Mark Twain products, but this is far from being the case. The ex-burglar is, as a matter of fact, a Mark Twain enthusiast. He has read most of the author's writings, and they remain his favorite books.
Indeed, the ex-burglar was discovered through his coming to the establishment of Harper & Brothers to get the recently published autobiography of Mark Twain. While he was getting it he modestly divulged the information that he had once paid the famous author an evening visit without invitation.
"My visit to Mark Twain was the last such exploit I ever made," he said. "Not because I was a 'disappointed burglar,' as Mark Twain said - for I took away all the silverware - but because I have since come to the conclusion that crime doesn't pay."
The ex-burglar has had further relations with the Clemens family since the unhappy episode which landed him in Connecticut State Prison for ten years, but these relations have been of a far pleasanter sort.
"Since my release from prison some nine years ago," he said, "I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting the only living member of Mark Twain's family, Mrs. Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch. It is to the generosity and practical assistance of Mark Twain's talented daughter that I owe my real chance to make good and to become a useful and law-abiding citizen and member of the society I hated and fought so long."
[This article concludes with a reprint of the burglar alarm story from Mark Twain's AUTOBIOGRAPHY]
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