I knew it."

'"Yes, he has. Carl, privation has been too much for you, and--"

'"Carl, you want to take a pill and get right to bed."

'"Bandage him first--bandage his head, and then--"

'"No, bandage his heels; his brains have been settling for weeks--I've noticed it."

'"Shut up!" said Millet, with ostensible severity, "and let the boy have his say. Now, then--come out with your project, Carl. What is it?"

'"Well, then, by way of preamble I will ask you to note this fact in human history: that the merit of many a great artist has never been acknowledged until after he was starved and dead. This has happened so often that I make bold to found a law upon it. This law: that the merit of every great unknown and neglected artist must and will be recognised and his pictures climb to high prices after his death. My project is this: we must cast lots--one of us must die."

'The remark fell so calmly and so unexpectedly that we almost forgot to jump. Then there was a wild chorus of advice again--medical advice--for the help of Carl's brain; but he waited patiently for the hilarity to calm down, and then went on again with his project:

'"Yes, one of us must die, to save the others--and himself. We will cast lots. The one chosen shall be illustrious, all of us shall be rich. Hold still, now--hold still; don't interrupt--I tell you I know what I am talking about. Here is the idea. During the next three months the one who is to die shall paint with all his might, enlarge his stock all he can--not pictures, no! skeleton sketches, studies, parts of studies, fragments of studies, a dozen dabs of the brush on each--meaningless, of course, but his, with his cipher on them; turn out fifty a day, each to contain some peculiarity or mannerism easily detectable as his--they're the things that sell, you know, and are collected at fabulous prices for the world's museums, after the great man is gone; we'll have a ton of them ready--a ton! And all that time the rest of us will be busy supporting the moribund, and working Paris and the dealers--preparations for the coming event, you know; and when everything is hot and just right, we'll spring the death on them and have the notorious funeral. You get the idea?"

'"N-o; at least, not qu--"

'"Not quite? Don't you see? The man doesn't really die; he changes his name and vanishes; we bury a dummy, and cry over it, with all the world to help. And I--"

'But he wasn't allowed to finish. Everybody broke out into a rousing hurrah of applause; and all jumped up and capered about the room and fell on each other's necks in transports of gratitude and joy. For hours we talked over the great plan, without ever feeling hungry; and at last, when all the details had been arranged satisfactorily, we cast lots and Millet was elected--elected to die, as we called it. Then we scraped together those things which one never parts with until he is betting them against future wealth--keepsake trinkets and suchlike--and these we pawned for enough to furnish us a frugal farewell supper and breakfast, and leave us a few francs over for travel, and a stake of turnips and such for Millet to live on for a few days.

'Next morning, early, the three of us cleared out, straightway after breakfast--on foot, of course. Each of us carried a dozen of Millet's small pictures, purposing to market them. Carl struck for Paris, where he would start the work of building up Millet's name against the coming great day. Claude and I were to separate, and scatter abroad over France.

'Now, it will surprise you to know what an easy and comfortable thing we had. I walked two days before I began business. Then I began to sketch a villa in the outskirts of a big town--because I saw the proprietor standing on an upper veranda. He came down to look on--I thought he would. I worked swiftly, intending to keep him interested. Occasionally he fired off a little ejaculation of approbation, and by-and-by he spoke up with enthusiasm, and said I was a master!

'I put down my brush, reached into my satchel, fetched out a Millet, and pointed to the cipher in the corner.

The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg and other Stories Page 61

Mark Twain

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book