People were deadly tired of that story out there, and when he told it the first time, with great seriousness, they thought he must be failing mentally. They did not laugh--they only felt sorry. He waited a little, as if expecting a laugh, and presently led around to it and told it again. The audience was astonished still more, and pitied him thoroughly. He seemed to be waiting pathetically in the dead silence for their applause, then went on with his lecture; but presently, with labored effort, struggled around to the old story again, and told it for the third time. The audience suddenly saw the joke then, and became vociferous and hysterical in their applause; but it was a narrow escape. He would have been hysterical himself if the relief had not came when it did.
--[A side-light on the Horace Greeley story and on Mr. Greeley's eccentricities is furnished by Mr. Goodman:
When I was going East in 1869 I happened to see Hank Monk just before I started. "Mr. Goodman," he said, "you tell Horace Greeley that I want to come East, and ask him to send me a pass." "All right, Hank," I said, "I will." It happened that when I got to New York City one of the first men I met was Greeley. "Mr. Greeley," said, "I have a message for you from Hank Monk." Greeley bristled and glared at me. "That--rascal?" he said, "He has done me more injury than any other man in America."]
BACK TO THE STATES
In the mean time Clemens had completed his plan for sailing, and had arranged with General McComb, of the Alta California, for letters during his proposed trip around the world. However, he meant to visit his people first, and his old home. He could go back with means now, and with the prestige of success.
"I sail to-morrow per Opposition--telegraphed you to-day," he wrote on December 14th, and a day later his note-book entry says:
Sailed from San Francisco in Opposition (line) steamer America, Capt. Wakeman, at noon, 15th Dec., 1866. Pleasant sunny day, hills brightly clad with green grass and shrubbery.
So he was really going home at last! He had been gone five and a half years--eventful, adventurous years that had made him over completely, at least so far as ambitions and equipment were concerned. He had came away, in his early manhood, a printer and a pilot, unknown outside of his class. He was returning a man of thirty-one, with a fund of hard experience, three added professions--mining, journalism, and lecturing-- also with a new name, already famous on the sunset slopes of its adoption, and beginning to be heard over the hills and far away. In some degree, at least, he resembled the prince of a fairy tale who, starting out humble and unnoticed, wins his way through a hundred adventures and returns with gifts and honors.
The homeward voyage was a notable one. It began with a tempest a little way out of San Francisco--a storm terrible but brief, that brought the passengers from their berths to the deck, and for a time set them praying. Then there was Captain Ned Wakeman, a big, burly, fearless sailor, who had visited the edges of all continents and archipelagos; who had been born at sea, and never had a day's schooling in his life, but knew the Bible by heart; who was full of human nature and profanity, and believed he was the only man on the globe who knew the secret of the Bible miracles. He became a distinct personality in Mark Twain's work-- the memory of him was an unfailing delight. Captain "Ned Blakely," in 'Roughing It', who with his own hands hanged Bill Noakes, after reading him promiscuous chapters from the Bible, was Captain Wakeman. Captain "Stormfield," who had the marvelous visit to heaven, was likewise Captain Wakeman; and he appears in the "Idle Excursion" and elsewhere.
Another event of the voyage was crossing the Nicaragua Isthmus--the trip across the lake and down the San Juan River--a, brand-new experience, between shores of splendid tropic tangle, gleaming with vivid life. The luxuriance got into his note-book.