I rubbed snow in her face and brought her to, and after a while got her excitement cooled down. By-and-by she drifted into her story again:

'So we began to live here in the fine house. But I was not happy. The reason was this: I was born for love: for me there could be no true happiness without it. I wanted to be loved for myself alone. I wanted an idol, and I wanted to be my idol's idol; nothing less than mutual idolatry would satisfy my fervent nature. I had suitors in plenty--in over-plenty, indeed--but in each and every case they had a fatal defect: sooner or later I discovered that defect--not one of them failed to betray it--it was not me they wanted, but my wealth.'

'Your wealth?'

'Yes; for my father is much the richest man in this tribe--or in any tribe in these regions.'

I wondered what her father's wealth consisted of. It couldn't be the house--anybody could build its mate. It couldn't be the furs--they were not valued. It couldn't be the sledge, the dogs, the harpoons, the boat, the bone fish-hooks and needles, and such things--no, these were not wealth. Then what could it be that made this man so rich and brought this swarm of sordid suitors to his house? It seemed to me, finally, that the best way to find out would be to ask. So I did it. The girl was so manifestly gratified by the question that I saw she had been aching to have me ask it. She was suffering fully as much to tell as I was to know. She snuggled confidentially up to me and said:

'Guess how much he is worth--you never can!'

I pretended to consider the matter deeply, she watching my anxious and labouring countenance with a devouring and delighted interest; and when, at last, I gave it up and begged her to appease my longing by telling me herself how much this polar Vanderbilt was worth, she put her mouth close to my ear and whispered, impressively:

'Twenty-two fish-hooks--not bone, but foreign--made out of real iron!'

Then she sprang back dramatically, to observe the effect. I did my level best not to disappoint her. I turned pale and murmured:

'Great Scott!'

'It's as true as you live, Mr. Twain!'

'Lasca, you are deceiving me--you cannot mean it.'

She was frightened and troubled. She exclaimed:

'Mr. Twain, every word of it is true--every word. You believe me--you do believe me, now don't you? Say you believe me--do say you believe me!'

'I--well, yes, I do--I am trying to. But it was all so sudden. So sudden and prostrating. You shouldn't do such a thing in that sudden way. It--'

'Oh, I'm so sorry! If I had only thought--'

'Well, it's all right, and I don't blame you any more, for you are young and thoughtless, and of course you couldn't foresee what an effect--'

'But oh, dear, I ought certainly to have known better. Why--'

'You see, Lasca, if you had said five or six hooks, to start with, and then gradually--'

'Oh, I see, I see--then gradually added one, and then two, and then--ah, why couldn't I have thought of that!'

'Never mind, child, it's all right--I am better now--I shall be over it in a little while. But--to spring the whole twenty-two on a person unprepared and not very strong anyway--'

'Oh, it was a crime! But you forgive me--say you forgive me. Do!'

After harvesting a good deal of very pleasant coaxing and petting and persuading, I forgave her and she was happy again, and by-and-by she got under way with her narrative once more. I presently discovered that the family treasury contained still another feature--a jewel of some sort, apparently--and that she was trying to get around speaking squarely about it, lest I get paralysed again. But I wanted to known about that thing, too, and urged her to tell me what it was. She was afraid. But I insisted, and said I would brace myself this time and be prepared, then the shock would not hurt me. She was full of misgivings, but the temptation to reveal that marvel to me and enjoy my astonishment and admiration was too strong for her, and she confessed that she had it on her person, and said that if I was sure I was prepared--and so on and so on--and with that she reached into her bosom and brought out a battered square of brass, watching my eye anxiously the while.

The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg and other Stories Page 33

Mark Twain

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Mark Twain
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