"Except you!" Barrow could hardly get the words out, his scorn so choked him. And he couldn't get any further than that form of words; it seemed to dam his flow, utterly. He got up and came and glared upon Tracy in a kind of outraged and unappeasable way, and said again, "Except you!" He walked around him--inspecting him from one point of view and then another, and relieving his soul now and then by exploding that formula at him; "Except you!" Finally he slumped down into his chair with the air of one who gives it up, and said:

"He's straining his viscera and he's breaking his heart trying to get some low-down job that a good dog wouldn't have, and yet wants to let on that if he had a chance to scoop an earldom he wouldn't do it. Tracy, don't put this kind of a strain on me. Lately I'm not as strong as I was."

"Well, I wasn't meaning to put--a strain on you, Barrow, I was only meaning to intimate that if an earldom ever does fall in my way--"

"There--I wouldn't give myself any worry about that, if I was you. And besides, I can settle what you would do. Are you any different from me?"

"Well--no."

"Are you any better than me?"

"O,--er--why, certainly not."

"Are you as good? Come!"

"Indeed, I--the fact is you take me so suddenly--"

"Suddenly? What is there sudden about it? It isn't a difficult question is it? Or doubtful? Just measure us on the only fair lines--the lines of merit--and of course you'll admit that a journeyman chairmaker that earns his twenty dollars a week, and has had the good and genuine culture of contact with men, and care, and hardship, and failure, and success, and downs and ups and ups and downs, is just a trifle the superior of a young fellow like you, who doesn't know how to do anything that's valuable, can't earn his living in any secure and steady way, hasn't had any experience of life and its seriousness, hasn't any culture but the artificial culture of books, which adorns but doesn't really educate- come! if I wouldn't scorn an earldom, what the devil right have you to do it!"

Tracy dissembled his joy, though he wanted to thank the chair-maker for that last remark. Presently a thought struck him, and he spoke up briskly and said:

"But look here, I really can't quite get the hang of your notions--your, principles, if they are principles. You are inconsistent. You are opposed to aristocracies, yet you'd take an earldom if you could. Am I to understand that you don't blame an earl for being and remaining an earl?"

"I certainly don't."

"And you wouldn't blame Tompkins, or yourself, or me, or anybody, for accepting an earldom if it was offered?"

"Indeed I wouldn't."

"Well, then, who would you blame?"

"The whole nation--any bulk and mass of population anywhere, in any country, that will put up with the infamy, the outrage, the insult of a hereditary aristocracy which they can't enter--and on absolutely free and equal terms."

"Come, aren't you beclouding yourself with distinctions that are not differences?"

"Indeed I am not. I am entirely clear-headed about this thing. If I could extirpate an aristocratic system by declining its honors, then I should be a rascal to accept them. And if enough of the mass would join me to make the extirpation possible, then I should be a rascal to do otherwise than help in the attempt."

"I believe I understand--yes, I think I get the idea. You have no blame for the lucky few who naturally decline to vacate the pleasant nest they were born into, you only despise the all-powerful and stupid mass of the nation for allowing the nest to exist."

"That's it, that's it! You can get a simple thing through your head if you work at it long enough."

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it. And I'll give you some sound advice: when you go back; if you find your nation up and ready to abolish that hoary affront, lend a hand; but if that isn't the state of things and you get a chance at an earldom, don't you be a fool--you take it."

Tracy responded with earnestness and enthusiasm:

"As I live, I'll do it!"

Barrow laughed.

The American Claimant Page 46

Mark Twain

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